US criticised for use of phosphorous in Fallujah raids

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington 
Published: 09 November 2005

A leading campaign group has demanded an urgent
inquiry into a report that US troops indiscriminately
used a controversial incendiary weapon during the
battle for Fallujah. Photographic evidence gathered
from the aftermath of the battle suggests that women
and children were killed by horrific burns caused by
the white phosphorus shells dropped by US forces. 

The Pentagon has always admitted it used phosphorus
during last year's assault on the city, which US
commanders said was an insurgent stronghold. But they
claimed they used the brightly burning shells "very
sparingly" and only to illuminate combat areas.

But the documentary Fallujah: the Hidden Massacre,
broadcast yesterday by the Italian state broadcaster,
RAI, suggested the shells were commonly used and
killed an unspecified number of civilians. Photographs
obtained by RAI from the Studies Centre of Human
Rights in Fallujah, show the bodies of dozens of
Fallujah residents whose skin has been dissolved or
caramelised by the effects of the phosphorus shells.
The use of incendiary weapons against civilian targets
is banned by treaty.

Last night Robert Musil, director of the group
Physicians for Social Responsibility, called for an
investigation. He told The Independent: "When there is
clear testimony that use of such weapons has done
this, it demands a full investigation. From Vietnam
onwards there has been a general condemnation of [the
use of white phosphorus] and concern about the
injuries and consequences."

The 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons
bans the use of weapons such as napalm and white
phosphorus against civilian - but not military -
targets. The US did not sign the treaty and has
continued to use white phosphorus and an updated
version of napalm, called Mark 77 firebombs, which use
kerosene rather than petrol. A senior US commander
previously has confirmed that 510lb napalm bombs had
been used in Iraq and said that "the generals love
napalm. It has a big psychological effect."

John Pike, director of the Washington-based military
studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, said the smoke
caused by the bombs could confuse or blind the enemy
or mark a target. "If it hits your clothes it will
burn your clothes and if it hits your skin it will
just keep on burning," he said.

Experts said that, if not removed, white phosphorus -
known as Willy Pete - can burn to the bone. The fumes
from phosphorus cause severe eye irritation. 


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