karl_lembke (karl_lembke) wrote,

Has the Coalition Used Chemical Weapons in Iraq?

A topic that's been screamed about in the blogosphere, and on LJ, is the use of white phosphorus in Iraq. This article looks the claims first made in an Italian "documentary".

It also included supposedly damning photos and videos -- some purporting to show the horrific effects of white phosphorus bombardment upon those innocent civilians who ignored the American warnings to evacuate, issued well prior to the assault.

Unfortunately for those promoting the film's claims, its assertions are rather easily debunked. The primary evidence given for the accusation that WP was used on the bodies shown lies in the fact that the burned corpses are clad in intact clothing. However, John Pike, weapons expert at the internationally respected globalsecurity.org, has categorically stated that burns caused by white phosphorus are not consistent with bodies in undamaged clothing.

...the film's contention that WP is a "chemical weapon". It is in fact an incendiary weapon, commonly used since at least World War II. Its use as an antipersonnel weapon against combatants is not barred by any treaty -- a fact confirmed by Peter Kaiser, a spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

As the film is so easily recognizable as nothing more than crude propaganda, even someone like Guardian columnist George Monbiot, the bete noir of US Iraq policy (and much else) rejects its claims, calling it "a turkey, whose evidence that white phosphorus was fired at Iraqi troops is flimsy and circumstantial".

The groundwork now laid, Mr. Monbiot finally arrives at the aim of his piece -- indeed, the Holy Grail of a certain kind of antiwar activist: to establish a moral equivalence between the US and Saddam Hussein:

"We were told that the war with Iraq was necessary for two reasons. Saddam Hussein possessed biological and chemical weapons and might one day use them against another nation. And the Iraqi people needed to be liberated from his oppressive regime, which had, among its other crimes, used chemical weapons to kill them. Tony Blair, Colin Powell, William Shawcross, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Ann Clwyd and many others referred, in making their case, to Saddam's gassing of the Kurds in Halabja in 1988."

The meme equating the legal use of white phosphorus munitions with the gassing of thousands of defenseless civilians is breathtaking, but predictable -- and will no doubt continue its relentless march through the blogosphere, thanks in large part to Mr. Monbiot. What's more surprising is the readiness with which he makes the easily refuted claim that WP used against combatants is a "chemical weapon", with the implication that such use is illegal.

Other comments about white phosphorus are linked from my other blog.

Tags: politics

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