US forces used 'chemical weapon' in Iraq

Published: 16 November 2005

The Pentagon has admitted US forces used white
phosphorus as "an incendiary weapon" during the
assault last year on Fallujah.

A Pentagon spokesman's comments last night appeared to
contradict the US ambassador to London who said that
American forces did not use white phosphorus as a

Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable
said that white phosphorus - which is normally used to
lay smokescreens - was not covered by international
conventions on chemical weapons.

But Professor Paul Rodgers of the University of
Bradford department of peace studies said it probably
would fall into the category of chemical weapons if it
was used directly against people.

A recent documentary by the Italian state broadcaster,
RAI, claimed that Iraqi civilians, including women and
children, had died of burns caused by white phosphorus
during the assault on Fallujah.

The report has been strenuously denied by the US,
however Col Venable disclosed that it had been used to
dislodge enemy fighters from entrenched positions in
the city.

"White phosphorus is a conventional munition. It is
not a chemical weapon. They are not outlawed or
illegal," he said on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme.

"We use them primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens
or target marking in some cases. However it is an
incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy

Asked directly if it was used as an offensive weapon
during the siege of Fallujah, he replied: "Yes, it was
used as an incendiary weapon against enemy

He added: "When you have enemy forces that are in
covered positions that your high explosive artillery
rounds are not having an impact on and you wish to get
them out of those positions, one technique is to fire
a white phosphorus round into the position because the
combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some
case the terror brought about the explosion on the
ground - will drive them out of the holes so that you
can kill them with high explosives," he said.

However in a letter yesterday to The Independent, the
US ambassador to London, Robert Tuttle, denied that
white phosphorus was deployed as a weapon.

"US forces participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom
continue to use appropriate lawful conventional
weapons against legitimate targets," he said.

"US forces do not use napalm or white phosphorus as

Col Venable said that a similar denial on the US State
Department's website had been entered more than a year
ago and was based on "poor information ".

Prof Rodgers said white phosphorus would be considered
as a chemical weapon under international conventions
if it was "deliberately aimed at people to have a
chemical effect".

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."

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies
Campbell said later: " A vital part of the effort in
Iraq is to win the battle for hearts and minds.

"The use of this weapon may technically have been
legal, but its effects are such that it will hand a
propaganda victory to the insurgency.

"The denial of use followed by the admission will
simply convince the doubters that there was something
to hide."

The Shadow Foreign Secretary Liam Fox said on today's
BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Clearly there needs to
be more openness coming from the Pentagon but the
claims at the moment are just claims.

"And I think that, although white phosphorus is a
brutal weapon, we need to remember that we were
talking about some pretty brutal insurgents. These
were the people who were hacking off hostages' heads
with knives."


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