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The Christian Science Monitor November 10, 2005

Update on Tuesday's "Did the US military use chemical weapons in Iraq?"

By Tom Regan

On Tuesday, the Italian state-run cable news channel RAI broadcast a documentary on the first anniversary of the battle to retake Fallujah from Iraqi insurgents. The program alleged that the US military used chemical weapons, in particular white phosphorus during a November '04 bombardment of the city. According to the Italian news website AKI, the RAI documentary charges that "the US forces did not use phosphorus in the legitimate way - to highlight enemy positions - but dropped the substance indiscriminately on the city, and on a massive scale."

The US military denies "the use of chemical weapons at any time in Iraq, which includes the ongoing Fallujah operation." The US military admitted to using the weapon to illuminate battlefields in Iraq, and says it did so in Fallujah, but insists it did not use it in civilian areas. Washington is not a signatory of an international treaty restricting white phosphorus devices.

But an article in the March/April edition of Field Artillery, which is is published at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, contradicts the military's claim that it only used white phosphorus as a way to illuminate the battlefield, and in fact used it as a weapon. The article, entiled "The Fight for Fallujah," and written by Capt. James T.Cobb, First Lieutenant Christopher A. LaCour and Sergeant First Class William H. Hight, who took part in the Fallujah operation, contains a section that specifically refers to the use of the chemical as a weapon.

b. White Phosphorous. WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [155-mm high explosives M107 ammunition rounds]. We fired "shake and bake" missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.

GlobalSecurity.org, an international security organization, describes the chemical this way:

White Phosphorus (WP), known as Willy Pete, is used for signaling, screening, and incendiary purposes. WP is a colorless to yellow wax-like substance with a pungent, garlic-like smell. White phosphorus, a pyrophoric material (ie, spontaneously flammable), creates a smoke screen. A side benefit of white phosphorus is that white phosphorus smoke is toxic and readily penetrates protective mask filters. Phosphorus smokes are generated by a variety of munitions. Some of these munitions such as the MA25 (155-mm round) may, on explosion, distribute particles of incompletely oxidized white phosphorus.

White phosphorus is not banned by any treaty. The United States retains its ability to employ incendiaries to hold high-priority military targets at risk in a manner consistent with the principle of proportionality that governs the use of all weapons under existing law. The use of white phosphorus or fuel air explosives are not prohibited or restricted by Protocol II of the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention (CCWC), the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects .

 


Copyright 2005, The Christian Science Monitor