Did the U.S. Use "Illegal" Weapons in Fallujah?
Media allegations claim the U.S. used outlawed weapons during combat in Iraq
The fighting in Fallujah, Iraq has led to a number of widespread myths including false charges that the United States is using chemical weapons such napalm and poison gas. None of these allegations are true.
Qatar-based Internet site Islam Online was one of the first to spread the false chemical weapons claim. On November 10, 2004, it reported that U.S. troops were allegedly using "chemical weapons and poisonous gas" in Fallujah. ("US Troops Reportedly Gassing Fallujah") It sourced this claim to Al-Quds Press, which cited only anonymous sources for its allegation.
The inaccurate Islam Online story has been posted on hundreds of Web sites.
On November 12, 2004, the U.S. Department of Defense issued a denial of the chemical weapons charge, stating:
"The United States categorically denies the use of chemical weapons at anytime in Iraq, which includes the ongoing Fallujah operation. Furthermore, the United States does not under any circumstance support or condone the development, production, acquisition, transfer or use of chemical weapons by any country. All chemical weapons currently possessed by the United States have been declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and are being destroyed in the United States in accordance with our obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention."
To its credit, Islam Online ran a Nov. 25, 2004, story carrying the U.S. denial.
In both stories, Islam Online noted that U.S. forces had used napalm-like incendiary weapons during the march to Baghdad in the spring of 2003. Although all napalm in the U.S. arsenal had been destroyed by 2001, Mark-77 firebombs, which have a similar effect to napalm, were used against enemy positions in 2003.
The repetition of this story on Islam Online's led to further misinformation. Some readers did not distinguish between what had happened in the spring of 2003, during the march to Baghdad, and in Fallujah in November 2004. They mistakenly thought napalm-like weapons had been used in Fallujah, which is not true. No Mark-77 firebombs have been used in operations in Fallujah.
On Nov. 11, 2004, the Nov. 10 Islam Online story was reposted by the New York Transfer News Web site, with the inaccurate headline "Resistance Says US Using Napalm, Gas in Fallujah."
The headline was wrong in two ways. First, as explained above, Islam Online was incorrect in claiming that U.S. forces were using poison gas in Fallujah. Second, the New York Transfer News misread the Islam Online story to mean that U.S. forces were currently using napalm-like weapons in Fallujah. But Islam Online had never claimed this; it had only talked about napalm use in 2003.
The false napalm allegation then took on a life of its own. Further postings on the Internet repeated or recreated the error that the New York Transfer News had made, which eventually appeared in print media. For example, on Nov. 28, 2004, the UK's Sunday Mirror inaccurately claimed U.S. forces were "secretly using outlawed napalm gas" in Fallujah.
The Sunday Mirror story was wrong in two ways.
First, napalm or napalm-like incendiary weapons are not outlawed. International law permits their use against military forces, which is how they were used in 2003.
Second, as noted above, no Mark-77 firebombs were used in Fallujah.
The Sunday Mirror's phrasing "napalm gas" is also revealing. Napalm is a gel, not a gas. Why did the Sunday Mirror describe it as a gas?
It may be that, somewhere along the line, a sloppy reader read the inaccurate New York Transfer News headline, "Resistance Says US Using Napalm, Gas in Fallujah," and omitted the comma between napalm and gas, yielding the nonsensical "napalm gas."
Next, the Sunday Mirror's misinformation about "napalm gas" was reported in identical articles on Nov. 28 by aljazeera.com and islamonline.com. These two Web sites, which are owned by the same company - Al Jazeera Publishing - are deceptive look-alike Web sites that masquerade as the English-language sites of the popular Qatar-based Arabic-language satellite television station al Jazeera and the popular Islam Online Web site, which is islamonline.net.
Finally, some news accounts have claimed that U.S. forces have used "outlawed" phosphorus shells in Fallujah. Phosphorus shells are not outlawed. U.S. forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.
There is a great deal of misinformation feeding on itself about U.S. forces allegedly using "outlawed" weapons in Fallujah. The facts are that U.S. forces are not using any illegal weapons in Fallujah or anywhere else in Iraq.
Created: 09 Dec 2004 Updated: 27 Jan 2005