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White Phosphorous


On November 26, 2004, independent journalist Dahr Jamail was perhaps the first to report on the use of "unusual weapons" used in the November 2004 Battle of Fallujah.[1] U.S. media watchdog group Project Censored awarded Jamail's story as contributing to the #2 under-reported story of the year, "Media Coverage Fails on Iraq".[2] On November 9, 2005 the Italian state-run broadcaster RAI ran a documentary titled "Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre" depicting what it alleges was the United States' use of white phosphorus (WP) in the attack causing insurgents and civilians to be killed or injured by chemical burns. The effects of WP were claimed to be very characteristic. Bodies were shown which were partially turned into what appears to be ash, but sometimes the hands of the bodies had skin or skin layers peeled off and hanging like gloves instead. The documentary further claims that the United States used incendiary MK-77 bombs (similar to napalm). While the use of incendiary weapons against civilians is illegal by Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (1980), this is not binding on the United States because it is not a signatory. The documentary stated:

    "WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breaches 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. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out. .. We used improved WP for screening missions when HC smoke would have been more effective and saved our WP for lethal missions."[3]

The US State Department initially denied using white phosphorus as a munition, a claim later contradicted by the Department of Defense when bloggers discovered a US Army magazine had run a story detailing its use in Fallujah. According to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), quoted by the RAI documentary, WP is allowed as an illumination device, not as an offensive weapon if its chemical properties are put to use. The OPCW has also stated that it is the toxic properties of white phosphorus that are prohibited and the use of its heat may not be prohibited.[34][35] The US government maintains its denial of WP use against civilians, but has admitted its use as an offensive weapon against enemy combatants.[36] An article in Washington Post exactly a year before also pointed out the use of white phosphorus in the battle, but attracted little attention.

White phosphorus, when used for screening or as a marker, or used as an incendiary against combatant forces, is not banned by Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. But if used as a weapon in a civilian area, it would be prohibited. The protocol specifically excludes weapons whose incendiary effect is secondary, such as smoke grenades. This has been often read as excluding white phosphorus munitions from this protocol, as well. The United States is among the nations that are parties to the convention but have not signed Protocol III.[citation needed]

Graphic visual footage of the weapons allegedly being fired from helicopters into urban areas is displayed, as well as detailed footage of the remains of those apparently killed by these weapons, including women and children. Questions have been raised concerning this footage since white phosphorus can not be delivered by helicopters in the manner shown in the film. The helicopters in the film are more likely dispensing illumination flares or counter measures to divert heat seeking surface to air missiles. The filmmakers interview ex-US military soldier Jeff Englehart of Colorado, who discusses the American use of white phosphorus, nicknamed "Willie Pete" (codification of "WP" - White Phosphorus) by U.S. servicemembers, in built-up areas, and describes the Fallujah offensive as "just a massive killing of Arabs."

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