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Agence France Presse November 16, 2005

US defends use of white phosphorus against Iraq insurgents

The United States defended the use of white phosphorus munitions against insurgents in Iraq last year but denied civilians were targeted.

The toxic agent was used during what a US army journal called "shake and bake" missions against insurgents in the battle for Fallujah last year.

"It's part of our conventional weapons inventory. We use it like we use any other conventional weapon," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

Whitman said he had no knowledge of any civilian victims of attacks with white phosphorus.

"We don't target any civilians with any of our weapons, and to suggest US forces were targeting civilians with these weapons would be wrong," he said.

"We don't target civilian populations. We go to great lengths to do everything possible to prevent civilian casualties, and collateral damage to property," he said.

Reports that white phosphorous was used in Fallujah has thrust the United States into a new controversy over Iraq war tactics.

But another Defense Department spokesman highlighted that white phosphorous has been used by armies around the world for the past century.

A yellowish substance with a pungent smell similar to garlic, white phosphorous erupts spontaneously into fire when exposed to oxygen, releasing a dense white smoke.

Incandescent particles of white phosphorus can cause deep, painful chemical burns, said GlobalSecurity.Org, a Washington group that gathers information on military subjects.

A report on the battle of Fallujah published in April in the army journal Field Artillery said white phosphorous "proved to be an effective and versatile munition" in Fallujah.

"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 (high explosives)," said the report.

"We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out," it said.

"We used improved WP for screening missions when HC smoke would have been more effective and saved our WP for lethal missions," it said.

Titled "Indirect Fires in the battle of Fallujah," the six page report was written by Captain James T. Cobb, First Lieutenant Christopher A. LaCour and Sergeant First Class William H. Hight and published in the March-April edition of Field Artillery.

A television documentary aired last week by Italian state television RAI drew attention to the US use of the munition in the November 8-20 battle to clear Fallujah of insurgents.

The documentary, "Fallujah - the Hidden Massacre," claimed that white phosphorus munitions were used against civilians as well as insurgents.

The documentary prompted protests this week in Rome outside the US embassy.

Whitman said US forces used the munition mainly to create smoke screens in battle and to mark targets, but he acknowledged they were used against insurgents as well.

Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, another Pentagon spokesman, said the white phosphorus also was used as an incendiary weapon.

"It has been used in armies the world over for most the past century, I believe. It was used by US forces in Operation Al Fajr, specifically to target enemy combatants so we could defeat them," he said.

Copyright 2005, Agence France Presse