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 weapon.
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.
The denial of use followed by the admission will simply convince the doubters that there was something to hide.
Sir Menzies Campbell
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
"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 combatants."
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
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
"US forces do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons."
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."
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.