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09 November 2005

Italian (RAI) TV documentary: US used white phosphorus against Iraq civilians

image from
purporting to be corpse
of Iraqi civilian after US
military offensive in Fallujah


[Phosphorus] is a particularly poisonous element with 50 mg being the average fatal dose (white phosphorus is generally considered to be the lethal form of phosphorus while phosphate and orthophosphate are essential nutrients). The allotrope white phosphorus should be kept under water at all times and therefore presents a significant fire hazard due to its extreme reactivity to atmospheric oxygen, and it should only be manipulated with forceps since contact with skin can cause severe burns. Chronic white phosphorus poisoning of unprotected workers leads to necrosis of the jaw called "phossy-jaw". Ingestion of white phosphorus may cause a medical condition known as "Smoking Stool Syndrome". Fluorophosphate esters are among the most potent neurotoxins known but most inorganic phosphates are relatively nontoxic. Phosphate pollution occurs where fertilizers or detergents have leached into soils.

When the white form is exposed to sunlight or when it is heated in its own vapor to 250 °C, it is transmuted to the red form, which does not phosphoresce in air. The red allotrope does not spontaneously ignite in air and is not as dangerous as the white form. Nevertheless, it should be handled with care because it does revert to white phosphorus in some temperature ranges and it also emits highly toxic fumes that consist of phosphorus oxides when it is heated.

Should elemental phosphorus be exposed, wash with 2% copper sulfate solution to form harmless compounds that can be washed away.


Thursday 10 November 2005

US used white phosphorus
on Iraqi civilians, report says

By Phil Stewart

ROME -- US forces in Iraq have used incendiary white phosphorus against civilians and a firebomb similar to napalm against military targets, Italian state-run broadcaster RAI reported on Tuesday.

A RAI documentary showed images of bodies recovered after a November 2004 offensive by US troops on the town of Falluja, which it said proved the use of white phosphorus against men, women and children who were burned to the bone.

"I do know that white phosphorus was used," said Jeff Englehart in the RAI documentary, which identified him as a former soldier in the US 1st Infantry Division in Iraq.

The US military says white phosphorus is a conventional weapon and says it does not use any chemical arms.

"Burned bodies. Burned children and burned women," said Englehart, who RAI said had taken part in the Falluja offensive. "White phosphorus kills indiscriminately."

A US military spokesman in Baghdad said he did not recall white phosphorus being used in Falluja.

"I do not recall the use of white phosphorus during the offensive operations in Falluja in the fall of 2004," Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan said.

An incendiary device, white phosphorus is used by the military to conceal troop movements with smoke, mark targets or light up combat areas.

The use of incendiary weapons against civilians has been banned by the Geneva Convention since 1980.

The United States did not sign the relevant protocol to the convention, a UN official in New York said.

The Falluja offensive aimed to crush followers of al Qaeda's Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said to have linked up with local insurgents in the Sunni Arab city west of Baghdad.

Some Western newspapers reported at the time that white phosporus had been used during the offensive.

In the documentary called Falluja: The Hidden Massacre, RAI also said US forces used the Mark 77 firebomb, a weapon similar to napalm, on military targets in Iraq in 2003.

It cited a letter it said came from British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram, claiming 30 MK 77 weapons were used on military targets in Iraq between March 31 and April 2, 2003.

Italy has nearly 3000 troops in Iraq despite strong opposition to their presence there.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is trailing in opinion polls ahead of April elections, and his centre-left rivals have vowed to eventually pull troops out of Iraq.

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