US using chemical weapons in Iraq?

If this turns out to be true, our glorious little war in Iraq is about to get a hell of a lot harder to justify.

Powerful new evidence emerged yesterday that the United States dropped massive quantities of white phosphorus on the Iraqi city of Fallujah during the attack on the city in November 2004, killing insurgents and civilians with the appalling burns that are the signature of this weapon.

Ever since the assault, which went unreported by any Western journalists, rumours have swirled that the Americans used chemical weapons on the city.

On 10 November last year, the Islam Online website wrote: “US troops are reportedly using chemical weapons and poisonous gas in its large-scale offensive on the Iraqi resistance bastion of Fallujah, a grim reminder of Saddam Hussein’s alleged gassing of the Kurds in 1988.”

The website quoted insurgent sources as saying: “The US occupation troops are gassing resistance fighters and confronting them with internationally banned chemical weapons.”

In December the US government formally denied the reports, describing them as “widespread myths”. “Some news accounts have claimed that US forces have used ‘outlawed’ phosphorus shells in Fallujah,” the USinfo website said. “Phosphorus shells are not outlawed. US forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes.

“They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.”

But now new information has surfaced, including hideous photographs and videos and interviews with American soldiers who took part in the Fallujah attack, which provides graphic proof that phosphorus shells were widely deployed in the city as a weapon.

I thought the use of chemical weapons was the No. 1 reason for calling Saddam a madman. If this story is true…I don’t even want to think about it.

Update: Yes indeedy, we’ve got another bombshell on our hands. We sure know how to fight a good war of liberation and win hearts and minds.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

More or less all modern weaponry are “chemical weapons” including anything that use gunpowder.

White phosphorus is nasty, but it is pretty much a “conventional” weapon.

November 8, 2005 @ 5:00 am | Comment

So what was the big deal about chemical weapons? Why do we gasp when we talk abut the bad guys getting them? If this is a non-story, I’ll be surprised – but we’ll see soon enough.

November 8, 2005 @ 5:18 am | Comment

The only big deal about chemical weapons is that Georgie-boy told people that it is the same thing as nukes..

November 8, 2005 @ 5:34 am | Comment

It’s the complete and total hypocrasy that takes your breath away though.

November 8, 2005 @ 6:33 am | Comment

White phosphorous is most assuredly not a chemical weapon, when the term is used in its WMD context. Basically WP (known as “willy pete” in Vietnam) is a fire that won’t go out until it burns out. It is no more a chemical weapon than napalm.

November 8, 2005 @ 8:08 am | Comment

I’d be careful of believing the sources unquestioningly. Sgreni’s captors wouldn’t let her release a story which would be devastating to the US effort? Hard to fathom, that. And isn’t she the same Communist journalist with the conflicting stories of being “targeted” by US troops? (I mean communist in the literal sense, as in self-proclaimed, not as empty pejorative).

November 8, 2005 @ 8:14 am | Comment

Sam, I don’t know if I believe them at all. I hope it isn’t true.

November 8, 2005 @ 4:06 pm | Comment

About whether or not it’s a chemical weapon, I enjoyed Digby’s take:

[W]hite phosphorous, an incendiary, is classified as a conventional, ie non-chemical, weapon. Well, since ketchup’s been a vegetable since the Reagan administration, I suppose napalm-like substances can be classified as little worse than rubber darts.

November 8, 2005 @ 4:31 pm | Comment

Well, as an incendiary weapon, it’s use on civilians is still banned by the 1980 Geneva convention. Altho one must then ask if this means its OK to drop regular high-explosive bombs on civilians.

But then again, our administration’s contempt for the Geneve conventions would probably render that a moot point.

White phosphorus might be used in flares, but, as I recall, it’s also pretty commonly used as an antipersonnel weapon. So I’m not sure I’d buy any “just provide illumination” stories. You can illuminate the neighborhood with napalm or a flame thrower as well.

Speaking of civilian casualties in Iraq, a high recommendation for the instalment of NPR’s radio show “This American Life” on civilian casualties in Iraq. An hour, but worth a listen, especially if you want to know how “acceptable civilian casualties” are defined.

November 8, 2005 @ 6:41 pm | Comment

I don’t think calling White Phosphorus a “conventional weapon” is an hyperbole. “Chemical weapons” is generally used to designate stuff like nerve gas. And I don’t think White Phosphorus is as bad as napalm.

If they were doing something like the firebombing of Dresden, we would have heard about it way earlier.

So, this is a non-story. If the administration had announced that the only WMDs they found were white fosphorus, they would have been laughed at too. Unless someone has a quote from an official saying that white phosphorus is the same as nukes …

November 8, 2005 @ 6:45 pm | Comment

From what I’m now reading, I would agree it may be a non-story. Unfortunately, if the depictions of the pain and suffering that White Phosphorus is inflicting on innocent civilians are accurate, it’s one more nail in the coffin of our “hearts and minds” campaign.

Will, thanks for that link. It’s something I suspect most of us don’t want to hear about; it’s much more soothing to pretend it’s just not happening.

November 8, 2005 @ 6:49 pm | Comment

In any war people will die in the most painful ways you can imagine. There is no such thing as precision warfare, where only the bad guys dies in a non-messy way. That is why it is why most people believe that war should be avoided as far as possible.

November 8, 2005 @ 7:26 pm | Comment

I saw the Italian documentary, and I must say they seemed completely uninformed, and not only on WP being “banned”.

But, there is footage of WP being used as an incendiary weapon… which is both impressive and chilling. They made an entire neighborhood uninhabitable in a few minutes.

I recall that the US considered the whole of Fallujah a target after allowing the people to evacuate. The whole point of the exercise was to be able to use the massive firepower that it has been unable to use in a normal town.

So, the point goes from “US using Chemical Weapons!” to “US using Incendiaries on Civilians!” to “US considers Whole City Free Fire zone … and gives civilians a week to evacuate!”

Not quite as eye catching.

November 8, 2005 @ 8:52 pm | Comment

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