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November 16th, 2005 - U.S. Denies Using Phosphorus Against Civilians

News article from the Associated Press

News article from BBC News

Summary of White Phosphorus Weapons in Iraq

U.S. Denies Using Phosphorus Against Civilians

Military says incendiary powder used against Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah


From the Associated Press

November 16, 2005


Washington - Pentagon officials say white phosphorus was used as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah last November, but deny an Italian television news report that it was used against civilians.


Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday that while white phosphorus is most frequently used to mark targets or obscure a position, it was used at times in Fallujah as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants.


White phosphorus is a colorless-to-yellow translucent wax-like substance with a pungent, garlic-like smell. The form used by the military ignites once it is exposed to oxygen, producing such heat that it bursts into a yellow flame and produces a dense white smoke. It can cause painful burn injuries to exposed human flesh.


“It was not used against civilians,” Venable said.


The spokesman referred reporters to an article in the March-April 2005 edition of the Army’s Field Artillery magazine, an official publication, in which veterans of the Fallujah fight spelled out their use of white phosphorus and other weapons. The authors used the shorthand “WP” in referring to white phosphorus.


“WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition,” the authors wrote. “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)” munitions.


“We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.”


The authors added, in citing lessons for future urban battles, that fire-support teams should have used another type of smoke bomb for screening missions in Fallujah “and saved our WP for lethal missions.”


The battle for Fallujah was the most intense and deadly fight of the war, after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. The city, about 35 miles west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River, was a key insurgent stronghold. The authors of the “after action” report said they encountered few civilians in their area of operations.


Italian communists protest


Italian communists held a sit-in Monday in front of the U.S. Embassy in Rome to protest the reported use by American troops of white phosphorus.


Italy’s state-run RAI24 news television aired a documentary last week alleging the U.S. used white phosphorus shells in a “massive and indiscriminate way” against civilians during the Fallujah offensive.


The State Department, in response, initially denied that U.S. troops had used white phosphorus against enemy forces. “They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.”


The department later said its statement had been incorrect.


“There is a great deal of misinformation feeding on itself about U.S. forces allegedly using ‘outlawed’ weapons in Fallujah,” the department said. “The facts are that U.S. forces are not using any illegal weapons in Fallujah or anywhere else in Iraq.”


Venable said white phosphorus shells are a standard weapon used by field artillery units and are not banned by any international weapons convention to which the U.S. is a signatory.


© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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US used white phosphorus in Iraq

US troops used white phosphorus as a weapon in last year's offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja, the US has said.


From BBC News

November 16, 2005


"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said.


The US had earlier said the substance - which can cause burning of the flesh - had been used only for illumination.


BBC defence correspondent Paul Wood says having to retract its denial is a public relations disaster for the US.


Col Venable denied that white phosphorous constituted a banned chemical weapon.


Washington is not a signatory to an international treaty restricting the use of the substance against civilians.


The US state department had earlier said white phosphorus had been used in Falluja very sparingly, for illumination purposes.


Col Venable said that statement was based on "poor information".




The US-led assault on Falluja - a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency west of Baghdad - displaced most of the city's 300,000 population and left many of its buildings destroyed.


Col Venable told the BBC's PM radio programme that the US army used white phosphorus incendiary munitions "primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases.


"However it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants."


And he said it had been used in Falluja, but it was a "conventional munition", not a chemical weapon.


It is not "outlawed or illegal", Col Venable said.


He said US forces could use white phosphorus rounds to flush enemy troops out of covered positions.


"The combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground - will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives," he said.


San Diego journalist Darrin Mortenson, who was embedded with US marines during the assault on Falluja, told the BBC's Today radio programme he had seen white phosphorous used "as an incendiary weapon" against insurgents.


However, he "never saw anybody intentionally use any weapon against civilians", he said.


‘Particularly nasty’


White phosphorus is highly flammable and ignites on contact with oxygen. If the substance hits someone's body, it will burn until deprived of oxygen., a defence website, says: "Phosphorus burns on the skin are deep and painful... These weapons are particularly nasty because white phosphorus continues to burn until it disappears... it could burn right down to the bone."


A spokesman at the UK Ministry of Defence said the use of white phosphorus was permitted in battle in cases where there were no civilians near the target area.


But Professor Paul Rogers, of the University of Bradford's department of peace studies, said white phosphorus could be considered a chemical weapon if deliberately aimed at civilians.


He told PM: "It is not counted under the chemical weapons convention in its normal use but, although it is a matter of legal niceties, it probably does fall into the category of chemical weapons if it is used for this kind of purpose directly against people."


When an Italian TV documentary revealing the use of white phosphorus in Iraq was broadcast on 8 November it sparked fury among Italian anti-war protesters, who demonstrated outside the US embassy in Rome.


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