The US used chemical weapons in Iraq - and then lied about it
Now we know napalm and phosphorus bombs have been dropped on Iraqis,
why have the hawks failed to speak out?
Guardian" -- -- Did US troops use chemical weapons in Falluja? 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 Falluja in November last year: "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 [high
explosive]. 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 Falluja. "'Gun
up!' Millikin yelled ... grabbing a white phosphorus round from a
nearby ammo can and holding it over the tube. 'Fire!' Bogert yelled,
as Millikin dropped it. The boom kicked dust around the pit as they
ran through the drill again and again, sending a mixture of burning
white phosphorus and high explosives they call 'shake'n'bake'
into... buildings where insurgents have been spotted all week."
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. Like other unlisted substances, 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 globalsecurity.org: "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
Until last week, the US state department 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 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 in trench lines
and spider holes...' 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 government, in
other words, appears to admit that white phosphorus was used in
Falluja as a chemical weapon.
The invaders have been forced into a similar climbdown over the use
of napalm in Iraq. In December 2004, the 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 (a) during
and (b) since the war".
"No napalm," the minister replied, " has been
used by coalition forces in Iraq either during the war-fighting
phase or since."
This seemed odd to those who had been paying attention.
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. I doubt it makes much difference to the people it
So in January this year, the MP Harry Cohen refined Mahon's
question. He asked "whether mark 77 firebombs have been used by
"The United States have 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. Mr Ingram had to retract his statements in a private letter
to the MPs in June.
We were told that the war with Iraq was necessary for two reasons.
Saddam Hussein possessed biological and chemical weapons and might
one day use them against another nation. And the Iraqi people needed
to be liberated from his oppressive regime, which had, among its
other crimes, used chemical weapons to kill them. Tony Blair, Colin
Powell, William Shawcross, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Ann Clwyd
and many others referred, in making their case, 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.
Given that they care so much, why has none of these hawks spoken out
against the use of unconventional weapons by coalition forces? Ann
Clwyd, the Labour MP who turned from peace campaigner to chief
apologist for an illegal war, is, as far as I can discover, the only
one of these armchair warriors to engage with the issue. In May this
year, she wrote to the Guardian to assure us that reports that a
"modern form of napalm" has been used by US forces "are completely
without foundation. Coalition forces have not used napalm - either
during operations in Falluja, or at any other time". How did she
know? The foreign office minister told her. Before the invasion,
Clwyd travelled through Iraq to investigate Saddam's crimes against
his people. She told the Commons that what she found moved her to
tears. After the invasion, she took the minister's word at face
value, when a 30-second search on the internet could have told her
it was bunkum. It makes you wonder whether she really gave a damn
about the people for whom she claimed to be campaigning.
Saddam, facing a possible death sentence, is accused of mass murder,
torture, false imprisonment and the use of chemical weapons. He is
certainly guilty on all counts. So, it now seems, are those who
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