Tuesday November 15, 2005
The Guardian (UK)
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?
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 damage."
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 lands on.
So in January this year, the MP Harry Cohen refined Mahon's question. He
asked "whether mark 77 firebombs have been used by coalition forces". The
US, the minister replied, has "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 overthrew him.