U.S. Charged With War Crimes

The Evidence File


The use of cluster bombs

1. Why cluster bombs are so harmfull

1.1. Each cluster bomb is composed of 200 to 700 bomblets. When each bomblet explodes it fragments into about 300 pieces of jagged steel - sending out virtual blizzards of deadly shrapnel. People are decapitated, arms, legs, hands and feet are severed from their bodies - anyone and anything alive in the immediate vicinity is shredded into a bloody mess.

1.2. Cluster bombs cause damage over a very large and imprecise area. Once released from a U.S. Air Force or Navy jet, cluster bombs fall for a pre-set amount of time or distance before their dispensers open, spreading the bomblets widely so they can effectively slaughter people over a wide area. The wide dispersal pattern of cluster munitions makes them difficult to target accurately.

1.3. Each cluster bomblet is activated by an internal fuze, and is set to explode above ground, on impact, or to be time-delayed - that is, they can be made into time bombs or mines. The smaller bombs are designed to explode near the time of impact. But since 5% to 30% fail to explode at the time set for them, unexploded bombs litter every target area, silent and nondescript. Until picked up by an unfortunate child or accidentally kicked by a passerby. In this way they become hidden killers, blending into their surroundings like land mines. And over time cluster bombs become more unstable - they explode more easily.
Because of their high failure rate, cluster munitions leave large numbers of hazardous, explosive duds, a great many unexploded "dud" submunitions that become de facto antipersonnel landmines that may cause injury or death to civilians long after the war is overů (Amnesty International "Iraq: Use of cluster bombs -- Civilians pay the price" 2 April 2003, AI Index: MDE 14/065/2003)

1.4. A Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) firing unit could sequentially launch twelve rockets containing 7,728 submunitions (dual-purpose grenades) designed to explode on impact into an area of 120,000 to 240,000 square meters at a range of up to 32 kilometers. The reliability rate for the M77 submunitions is 84 percent according to a U.S. Department of Defense report to the U.S. Congress on unexploded ordnance (UXO) published in 2000. Using this reliability rate, the MLRS firing mission described above would result in 1,236 unexploded submunitions scattered randomly in the impact area. Only a trained military expert could tell whether they are armed and hazardous or whether they failed to arm. The preceding illustration uses only one launch unit firing its payload once. Typically there are four launch units in a battery of MLRS. (Human Rights Watch: A Global Overview of Explosive Submunitions 1 May 2002)

2. Dangers were foreseeable and avoidable

Human Right Watch wrote on 18 March: Cluster Munitions a Foreseeable Hazard in Iraq. "The use of cluster munitions in Iraq will result in grave dangers to civilians and friendly combatants. Based on experiences in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Yugoslavia/Kosovo in 1999, and Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, these dangers are both foreseeable and preventable."
HRW has written multiple studies about the dramatic harms caused by the use of cluster bombs during the previous US-wars of Irak, Kosovo and Afghanistan. At least eighty U.S. casualties during the 1991 Gulf War were attributed to cluster munition duds. More than 4,000 civilians were killed or injured by cluster munition duds after the end of the war. ( )

3. Geneva Convention

"Persons taking no active part in the hostilities ... shall in all circumstances be treated humanely." Those are the opening words of the Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949.
Although cluster bombs are not explicitly forbidden by the Geneva Law, the rules of war
prohibit the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons or weapons that are incapable of
being used in a manner that complies with the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants. Those who use them in civilian areas therefore open themselves to charges of war crimes.

4. U.S. Cluster Munitions

The United States stockpiles over one billion submunitions in weapons currently in service. Nearly three-quarters of this stockpile of submunitions are contained in MLRS rockets and 155mm artillery projectiles. Given reported failure rates, a stockpile of that size creates the specter of well over 100 million explosive duds, each posing a danger to civilians similar to antipersonnel landmines. (Human Rights Watch: A Global Overview of Explosive Submunitions May 2002)
Four types of U.S. cluster munitions have a history of producing high numbers of hazardous submunition duds. High dud rates have been documented in testing for Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) M77 submunitions and 155mm artillery projectiles with M42 and M46 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM) submunitions. Two types of air-dropped cluster munitions--older Rockeye (CBU99/CBU-100) bombs and newer Combined Effects Munitions (CBU-87)--have produced high numbers of hazardous duds in combat operations in Iraq, Kuwait, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. (
In addition to these four cluster munitions, there are others with high failure rates that could be used in Iraq. While many of the older Vietnam-era cluster munitions that were used in large numbers in 1991 in Kuwait and Iraq are no longer serviceable and are prohibited from use, the U.S. military is retaining some older cluster munitions to make up for shortfalls in the inventories of newer, more reliable cluster munitions. For example, one older type of 105mm artillery projectile (designated M444) with a submunition dud rate of 12 percent is being retained to cover for stockpile shortages of another projectile (designated M915) with a 1 percent dud rate and a self-destruct fuze.

5. The cluster bomb "Made in UK" : RBL 755

Each RBL 755 weighs 600 lb and breaks up in the air releasing 147 bomblets, each of which explodes into approximately 2000 metal fragments. About the size of a soft-drink can, parachutes slow the bomblets' fall, and each has the explosive power to destroy a tank - if by some miracle it hits a tank in the right place. That's a big "IF" indeed - considering the safe-for-the-pilot altitude from which the bombs are dropped. Such high-altitude delivery guarantees there will be essentially zero accuracy. That means lots of dead civilian people, including children.

6. US-army and UK-army massively used cluster bombs

6.1. The use of cluster bombs has been admitted by both the U.S. and British military. (Human Rights Watch "U.S. Misleading on Cluster Munitions" 25 April 2003)
Both the U.S. and the British used several types of cluster munitions, including those that have caused severe humanitarian problems in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. (Human Rights Watch "U.S. Use of Clusters in Baghdad Condemned" 16 April 2003) The cluster bombs that were used in Hilla were identified by Landmine Action, a UK-based NGO, as BLU97. Submunitions from artillery projectiles and multiple launch rockets, as well as aircraft cluster bombs, may have produced tens of thousands of hazardous duds in numerous locations in Iraq, including urban areas, said Reuben Brigety, researcher with the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch.

6.2. The U.S. Department of Defense has acknowledged using nearly 1,500 air-dropped cluster bombs, but has not revealed any information about ground-launched cluster munitions, which may have been much more numerous. An unnamed U.S. defense official told a reporter for Los Angles Times that the U.S. does not keep track of ground launched cluster munitions.

6.3. The U.K. Ministry of Defense Geoff Hoon, admitted on April 24 that its forces had used 2,100 cluster munition artillery projectiles and at least 66 BL-755 cluster bombs in the conflict. The out-of-date BL-755 cluster bombs produced a large number of unexploded duds in combat operations in Kuwait and Yugoslavia/Kosovo. The artillery projectile used by the United Kingdom, called the L20A1, contains 49 submunitions, each equipped with a self-destruct device, which the manufacturer claims reduces the dud rate to below 2 percent. There have also been reports that U.K. ground forces used Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, which have a submunition dud rate of 16 percent or more.

6.4. The U.S. even boasted that they used "for the first time in combat history" a new version of this banned weapon, the CBU-105. ("US drops new high tech cluster bomb in Iraq" - Also British officers, and Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, confirmed that they had used new cluster munitions near Basra. (Mark Odell "Widespread Use of Cluster Bombs Sparks Outrage" Financial Times, 4 April 2003)

7. Some facts

7.1. On Tuesday 1 April, an AFP correspondent at Hilla south of Baghdad saw what seemed to be the parts of cluster bombs peppered over a large area. Hospital officials and witnesses said 48 civilians had died in US-British bombardment of the area since late Monday.
The scenes at al-Hilla's hospital on 1 April showed that something terrible had happened. The bodies of the men, women and children - both dead and alive - brought to the hospital were punctured with shards of shrapnel from cluster bombs.
Robert Fisk of the Independent wrote: "Terrifying film of women and children later emerged after Reuters and the Associated Press were permitted by the Iraqi authorities to take their
cameras into the town. Their pictures - the first by Western news agencies from the Iraqi side of the battlefront - showed babies cut in half and children with amputation wounds, apparently caused by American shellfire and cluster bombs. Much of the videotape was too terrible to show on television and the agencies' Baghdad editors felt able to send only a few minutes of a 21-minute tape that included a father holding out pieces of his baby and screaming "cowards, cowards" into the camera. Two lorryloads of bodies, including women in flowered dresses, could be seen outside the Hilla hospital." (The Independent April 03, 2003)

Injured survivors told reporters how the explosives fell "like grapes" from the sky, and how bomblets bounced through the windows and doors of their homes before exploding. A doctor at al-Hilla's hospital said that almost all the patients were victims of cluster bombs. Many of the cluster bombs reportedly dropped from the air by US forces on a civilian area of al-Hilla were of the type BLU97 A. Landmine Action, a UK-based non-governmental organization, has stated that pictures from al-Hilla show unexploded BLU97 A cluster submunition.
When questioned about the attack on al-Hilla, General Brooks, speaking for the US Central Command, did not deny the use of cluster bombs. He said: "[I]n our approach to targeting and using things like cluster munitions, we always give consideration to what types of activities are likely to occur there nextů I don't have any specifics about that particular attack and the explosions that would link it to cluster munitions at all."

7.2. Apart from the attack on Hilla, the U.S. troops have reportedly also used cluster bombs in Baghdad and other places. According to some reports, children have been severely injured when they found unexploded fragments of cluster bombs in densely populated areas of Baghdad. (Thomas Frank "Grisly Results of U.S. Cluster Bombs" Newsday, 15 April 2003; Rosalind Russell "Cluster bombs - a hidden enemy for Iraqi children" Reuters, 18 April 2003; Mark Baker "Hundreds are dying who should not die" The Age, 21 April 2003) -

7.3. Several reports indicate that there may have been civilian casualties as a result of the use of cluster bombs. For example, on 5 April two clusters bombs reportedly dropped by US forces on the al-Baladiyat quarter in the southwest of Baghdad left eight people wounded, residents told AFP. Small bomblets were scattered over a courtyard between several brick buildings. Most of the 50,000 residents of the quarter are Palestinian families who fled to Iraq in 1948.

7.4. The AFP reported on April 29 that unexploded U.S. cluster bombs were still making civilian casualties in the city of Najaf. A U.S. marine confirmed that unexploded ordnance still littered the area but added that they were unable to clear it because they were short on people. ( "US cluster bombing leaves Iraqi city angry over dead, maimed" AFP, 29 April 2003)

7.5. "The Evil of Cluster Bombs", by Essam Al-Ghalib, Arab News War Correspondent
NAJAF, 9 April 2003 - Six days after the "liberation" of Najaf, Iraqis of all ages continue to pack the corridors of Saddam Hussein General Hospital. They are mostly victims of unexploded munitions that are strewn throughout various residential neighborhoods - along streets, in family homes, in school playgrounds, in the fields belonging to farms...
US forces have been using cluster bombs against Iraqi soldiers. But the majority of the victims are civilians, mostly children curious about the small shiny objects which are the same size as a child's hand.
Cluster bombs, as explained by an administrator at the hospital, have been dropped by the hundred. They are supposed to explode on impact. However, many do not, and lie on the street exposed to the elements.
A young Iraqi in Najaf told Arab News yesterday: "They are everywhere, and they are going off periodically. We don't even have to touch them - they just go off by themselves, especially as the temperature rises throughout the day."
In a residential neighborhood where nine civilians were killed by heavy US shelling last week, a sudden explosion sent this correspondent and civilians running for cover.
Back at Saddam Hussein General Hospital, a seven-year-old boy, the skin burned off his legs, was being turned away by the doctors. The burns extended from the soles of his feet to midway up his little thighs. His father, distraught and with a look of desperation on his face, told Arab News as he held his son in his arms: "They say his injuries are minor compared with others here. They say that they can't waste their medication on him. They won't even give him pain killers."
"He was playing at his school when somehow a munition exploded," the father explained. "They need to come and clear our schools and homes of these explosives."
Arab News visited several of the hospital's wards and saw victims of the "liberation" of Najaf. A six-year-old girl suffering from shrapnel injuries, whose leg was drilled to accommodate a bone brace for her broken thigh, started crying as the doctor explained to the journalists present that her right foot had become gangrenous and so would have to be amputated.
Saddam Hussein General Hospital alone has seen 307 deaths and treated 920 injuries. Of those, only 20 of the dead and 50 of the injured were soldiers.

8. How many civilians were killed by cluster bombs?

John Sloboda and Hamit Dardagan : "The Pentagon says 1. Iraq Body Count says at least 200." - Tuesday 6th May 2003

Last month's claim by the Pentagon that only one civilian has died from cluster bombing is breathtaking in its audacious distortion of reality. General Richard Myers, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday 25th April:
"Only one of the nearly 1,500 cluster bombs used by coalition forces in Iraq resulted in civilian casualties. An initial review of all cluster munitions used and the targets they were used on indicate that only 26 of those approximately 1,500 hit targets within 1,500 feet of civilian neighborhoods. And there's been only one recorded case of collateral damage from cluster munitions noted so far." (Agence France-Presse April 25, 2003)

But this was only part of the picture, for: [...]Myers did not mention surface-launched cluster munitions, which are believed to have caused many more civilian casualties.

"To imply that cluster munitions caused virtually no harm to Iraqi civilians is highly disingenuous," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Instead of whitewashing the facts, the Pentagon needs to come clean about the Army's use of cluster munitions, which has been much more fatal to civilians." (Human Rights Watch April 25, 2003)

Data compiled by Iraq Body Count from widely published press and media reports shows that at least 200 civilian deaths have already been reliably reported as being due to cluster bombs, with up to a further 172 less firmly linked deaths that also involved other munitions. A table consultable at lists these 372 deaths and provides basic information for all reported incidents in which cluster bombs were involved. It reveals that 147 of the 372 deaths have been caused by detonation of unexploded or "dud" munitions, with around half this number being children.

Cluster bombs have been used by coalition forces right through the war. Basra, Nassiriya, Hilla, Najaf, Manaria, Baghdad: all these towns have lost scores of civilian lives in cluster bombing raids.

Not only do cluster bombs kill; they maim in particularly excruciating ways. On April 10th Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times reported that All over Baghdad, the city's five main hospitals simply cannot cope with an avalanche of civilian casualties. Doctors can't get to the hospitals
because of the bombing. Dr Osama Saleh-al-Duleimi, at the al-Kindi hospital, confirms the absolute majority of patients are women and children, victims of bullets, shrapnel and most of all, fragments of cluster bombs: "They are all civilians," he says, "caught in aerial and
artillery bombardment". The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is in a state of almost desperation. Its spokesman, Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, contacted by satellite telephone, still mentions casualties arriving at hospitals at a rate of as many as 100 per hour and at least 100 per day. (Asia Times April 10, 2003)

The Mirror's reporter Anton Antonowicz visiting a hospital in Hillah, wrote "Among the 168 patients I counted, not one was being treated for bullet wounds. All of them, men, women, children, bore the wounds of bomb shrapnel. It peppered their bodies. Blackened the skin. Smashed heads. Tore limbs." - "All the injuries you see were caused by cluster bombs," Dr Hydar Abbas told Antonowicz. "Most of the people came from the southern and western periphery. The majority of the victims were children who died because they were outside." (The Mirror April 03, 2003)

On April 8th, Amnesty International urged that an independent and thorough investigation must be held and those found responsible for any violations of the laws of war should be brought to justice. The US and UK authorities should order the immediate halt to further use of cluster bombs. - (Amnesty International April 08, 2003)

It is unsurprising to us that, on the same day as General Myers issued his "body count" of 1, the United States blocked international efforts to allow a United Nations Human Rights Commission investigator of crimes under Saddam Hussein to look at the post-Saddam period. (Reuters April 25, 2003) Such blocking strongly suggests that the USA and the UK have much to hide.


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