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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

U.S. military has used white phosphorus in Iraq against the Islamic State

Pictures and videos posted online by the Pentagon show that the United States is using white phosphorus munitiions in its fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.

While the use of white phosphorus munitions is not banned, they should only be used in areas with no civilians and even the use against combatants is questionable as it causes horrible burns. The phosphorus shells can be used to make smoke screens or as signals for advancing troops. Photos on a Pentagon-managed public affairs website show a U.S. artillery unit in Iraq using white phosphorus munitions, M825A1 155mm rounds. The shell is able to create an effective smokescreen lasting about 10 minutes. There are 116 felt wedges in the shell that are impregnated with the white phosphorus. When they come in contact with the air they automatically ignite.
Col. Joseph Scrocca the public affairs director the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq claimed that the rounds are used for "screening and signaling". Scrocca claims the use of the shells is always in conformity to the Law of Armed Conflict on areas known to be free of civilians and not against enemy forces. Scrocca's statement was somewat revised by Air Force Col. John Dorrian when he commented on the photo:“In the foreground of the photo are 155mm white phosphorous rounds, which are used for screening, obscuring, and marking. When U.S. forces use these munitions, as required by the Law of Armed Conflict, they do so in a way that fully considers possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures,” Dorrian said in an email. “The U.S. military takes all reasonable precautions to minimize the risk of incidental injury to non-combatants and damage to civilian structures.”When asked if they had been used for other purposes, Dorrian said only that the munitiions were "used generally for the circumstances which I described." He did not say how many times the munitions had been used or if they had been dropped on enemy fighters or their equipment.
Dorrian said the photo had been taken during a 48-operation called Evergreen II involving 2,000 Kurdish fighters who were to take control of a bridge over a river in the town of Gwer. The white phosphorus was used to obscure the movement of the Kurdish forces. Islamic State forces were on the opposite side of the river. Dorian could not say if the rounds were used against Islamic State positions away from the town, or even if they had been used in the town.
This is not the first time the U.S. has used white phosphorus munitions in Iraq. The munitions were extensively used in the battle of Fallujah as described in Wikipedia:On November 9, 2005 the Italian state-run broadcaster Radiotelevisione Italiana S.p.A. aired a documentary titled "Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre", alleging that the United States used white phosphorus as a weapon in Fallujah causing insurgents and civilians to be killed or injured by chemical burns. The filmmakers further claimed that the United States used incendiary MK-77 bombs in violation of Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
Mark Hiznay, the associate arms director for Human Rights said that he was concerned about the possible use of white phosphorus munitions in the campaign to retake Mosul from the IS:“When white phosphorus is used in attacks in areas containing concentrations of civilians and civilian objects, it will indiscriminately start fires over a wide area. U.S. and Iraqi forces should refrain from using white phosphorus in urban areas like Mosul because whatever tactical military advantage is gained at the time of use, it will be far outweighed by the stigma created by horrific burns to civilian victims.”
NATO has also used the munitions in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia has also used the munitions in the war in Yemen,


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