There have been reports from various news sources that during the battle of Fallujah the US forces used non-conventional weapons. Some even accused that we used napalm or possibly chemical weapons. Pictures on Arab media showed bodies that looked like they had been dipped in acid, still wearing intact clothing that seemed to identify them as civilians. Such pictures had the Arab world asking if they had simply traded one brutal oppressor willing to use chemical weapons on its people for another.
Recently an Italian documentary showed pictures and testimony of the aftermath of Fallujah claiming that the US military had used chemical weapons, including white phosphorous, indiscriminately against military and civilian targets in the city. The military in Iraq denied the use of chemical weapons and the use of white phosphorous as an offensive weapon in Fallujah. White phospherous is primarly used as an illumination flare or to create smoke. The claim about not using white phosphorous as an offensive weapon though had to be recanted when an article in the 2005 March edition of the military journal â€œField Artillery Magazineâ€ was cited by a number of reporters. The article talked about the effective use of â€œshake and bakeâ€ missions on insurgent positions in the battle of Fallujah, these are mission in which a mixture of white phosphorous and high explosive rounds are used to saturate a location. Even a northern California newspaper, The North County Times, las year had published a report from an imbedded reporter who talked about a â€œshake and bakeâ€ mission done by the unit he was imbedded with during the battle of Fallujah.
The military has chosen to alter their statement after this embarrassment to include the fact that they had used white phosphorous shells as an offensive weapon in Fallujahâ€¦ but they had not targeted civilians with it. But by this point the damage is done, there are still those who are going to believe the initial reports that the US used chemical weapons. There are many who believe that the US tried to deceive the world by at first denying the use of the weapons, and that reduces the credibility of a military trying to win hearts and minds.
But I would like to just point one thing out. White Phosphorous is not a chemical weapon, the term WMD has been bandied about a great deal with the horrific pictures of its victims. But chemical weapons come in one of two types; they are either caustics or nerve agents. Caustics, like mustard gas and chlorine, cause chemical burns to soft tissues and death from blood loss and organ failure. Nerve agents, like Sarin and VX, are nerve toxins that block communication between nerve cells or destroy the nervous system and cause death from organ failure. White Phosphorous is an incendiary; it is a chemical that ignites at about 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and burns very energetically. When a white phosphorous shell strikes its target it explodes into a large cloud of fine dust particles. Each of these particles will ignite when it comes into contact with something that is greater than 86 degrees Fahrenheit, such as human skin, which averages at about 98.6 degrees. When the dust particles ignite smothering them from access to all oxygen is the only way to snuff them. White Phosphorous is an indiscriminate killer though, as the dust from the shell can travel up to 150 feet away from the point of impact (further if there are high winds). And its victims are quite horrific to behold as they look like they have been horribly burned, but their clothes and surroundings remain relatively untouched.
My biggest problem with this is not the fact that we used White Phosphorous munitions. The US is not a signatory to the 1980 incendiary weapons ban, and White Phosphorous is not identified as a chemical weapon in any of the chemical weapons bans that the US is a signatory of. My problem is that when challenged about this our nationâ€™s first reaction was to deny it flatlyâ€¦ even though there was plenty of evidence that was over a year old that had already been accessible to the publicâ€¦ our governmentâ€™s first reaction was to lie. If this was the first example of this then I could excuse it, but its not. Our government has had to recant foolish denials at least half a dozen times, and each time we do it the trust value of our leadership is reduced in the eyes of the Iraqis. It is no wonder that the newly elected Iraqi government has asked us to leave, and the majority of Iraqiâ€™s believe that attacks on our troops by insurgents are justified. The behavior of our leadership has been shameful, and bred distrust among the very people we were there to â€œliberateâ€.