Iraq war

US lied about using chemical weapons

Did US troops use chemical weapons in Fallujah? The answer is yes. The proof is not to be found in the documentary broadcast on Italian TV last week, which has generated gigabytes of hype on the internet. It’s a turkey, whose evidence that white phosphorus was fired at Iraqi troops is flimsy and circumstantial. But the bloggers debating it found the smoking gun.

The first account they unearthed in a magazine published by the US army. In the March 2005 edition of Field Artillery, officers from the 2nd Infantry’s fire support element boast about their role in the attack on Fallujah last November: “We used White Phosphorous (WP) for screening missions at two breeches and as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with high explosive (HE). We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.’’

The second, in California’s North County Times, was by a reporter embedded with the marines in the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. White phosphorus is not listed in the schedules of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It can be legally used as a flare to illuminate the battlefield, or to produce smoke to hide troop movements from the enemy. It may be deployed for “military purposes... not dependent on the use of the toxic properties of chemicals as a method of warfare.’’ But it becomes a chemical weapon as soon as it is used directly against people. A chemical weapon can be “any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm.’’

White phosphorus is fat-soluble and burns spontaneously on contact with the air. According to global “The burns usually are multiple, deep, and variable in size. The solid in the eye produces severe injury. The particles continue to burn unless deprived of atmospheric oxygen. If service members are hit by pieces of white phosphorus, it could burn right down to the bone.’’ As it oxidises, it produces smoke composed of phosphorus pentoxide. According to the standard US industrial safety sheet, the smoke “releases heat on contact with moisture and will burn mucous surfaces. Contact can cause severe eye burns and permanent damage.’’

The US state department last week maintained that US forces used white phosphorus shells “very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes’’. They were fired “to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.’’ Confronted with the new evidence on last Thursday it changed its position. “We have learned that some of the information we were provided is incorrect. White phosphorous shells, which produce smoke, were used in Fallujah not for illumination but for screening purposes, ie. obscuring troop movements and, according to Field Artillery magazine, ‘as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents.’ The article states that US forces used white phosphorus rounds to flush out enemy fighters so that they could then be killed with high explosive rounds.’’

The US appears to admit that white phosphorus was used in Fallujah as a chemical weapon. The invaders have been forced into a similar climb-down over the use of napalm in Iraq. In December 2004, the British Labour MP Alice Mahon asked the British armed forces minister Adam Ingram “whether napalm or a similar substance has been used by the coalition in Iraq.”

“No napalm,’’ the minister replied, “has been used by coalition forces in Iraq either during the war-fighting phase or since.’’ There were widespread reports that in March 2003 US marines had dropped incendiary bombs around the bridges over the Tigris and the Saddam Canal on the way to Baghdad. The commander of Marine Air Group 11 admitted that “we napalmed both those approaches’’. Embedded journalists reported that napalm was dropped at Safwan Hill on the border with Kuwait. In August 2003 the Pentagon confirmed that the marines had dropped “mark 77 firebombs.’’ Though the substance these contained was not napalm, its function, the Pentagon’s information sheet said, was “remarkably similar.’’ While napalm is made from petrol and polystyrene, the gel in the mark 77 is made from kerosene and polystyrene.

This January, the British MP Harry Cohen asked “whether mark 77 firebombs have been used by coalition forces.’’ The US, the minister replied, has “confirmed to us that they have not used mark 77 firebombs, which are essentially napalm canisters, in Iraq at any time.’’ The US government had lied to him. Tony Blair, Colin Powell, the British journalists William Shawcross, David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen and Tony Blair’s special representative for Iraq, Ann Clwyd and many others, referred to Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds in Halabja in 1988. They accused those who opposed the war of caring nothing for the welfare of the Iraqis. Why has none of these hawks spoken out against the use of unconventional weapons by coalition forces? — The Guardian