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Chemical Weapons in Iraq

We've learned more about our use of chemical weapons in Iraq. Besides white phosphorus, we may have used napalm. While we are certainly justified in using all weapons against an enemy that it attacking us, we are supposed to be in Iraq in order to change hearts and minds. The Iraqis never attacked us before we invaded their country.

Andrew Buncombe, Kim Sengupta and Colin Brown report in the Independent that the new Iraq government is going to investigate whether US forces violated an international treaty against chemical weapons. Iraq's Human Rights minister, Narmin Othman, will send a team of investigators to Fallujah to find out whether civilians were been killed or injured by the white phosphorus, which the US claims it was using only to light up the night sky during invasions.

The battle of Fallujah, during which the white phosphorus was used, took place over two weeks in November and led to the displacement of 300,000 people. Lt. Colonel Barry Venable white phosphorus is used regularly by US troops and says it probably has been used elsewhere as well. Photographs leaked to the media show bodies of civilians that are burned beyond recognition. Earlier, the US ambassador to London said that we do not use chemical weapons.

The use of chemical weapons against civilians is banned in article two, protocol III of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Weapons. This treaty also prohibits their use against military targets "inside a concentration of civilians except when such military objective is clearly separated from the concentration of civilians." In other words, they cannot be used when there is danger of civilians being hurt by them, as has clearly been the case in Iraq.

White phosphorus is a highly flammable material which ignites when exposed to oxygen. It will burn human skin until all the oxygen is used up. A doctor from Fallujah described civilians "who had their skin melted." It can be used during night attacks because it flares in huge bursts with a yellow flame when fired. It can confuse the enemy because it also produces thick white smoke.

White phosphorus is not technically a chemical weapon, because it burns everything around it. True chemical weapons are designed to attack specific organs of the human body. Some people may therefore claim that the use of white phosphorus does not violate the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. But protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons specifically bans its use against civilian populations. The Pentagon has denied reports it used napalm in Iraq, saying it destroyed its last napalm in 2001.

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