'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Use of Napalm in Fallujah 

Here's the Sunday Mirror on an emerging scandal on the other side of the Atlantic:

US troops are secretly using outlawed napalm gas to wipe out remaining insurgents in and around Fallujah.

News that President George W. Bush has sanctioned the use of napalm, a deadly cocktail of polystyrene and jet fuel banned by the United Nations in 1980, will stun governments around the world.

And last night Tony Blair was dragged into the row as furious Labour MPs demanded he face the Commons over it. Reports claim that innocent civilians have died in napalm attacks, which turn victims into human fireballs as the gel bonds flames to flesh.

Outraged critics have also demanded that Mr Blair threatens to withdraw British troops from Iraq unless the US abandons one of the world's most reviled weapons. Halifax Labour MP Alice Mahon said: "I am calling on Mr Blair to make an emergency statement to the Commons to explain why this is happening. It begs the question: 'Did we know about this hideous weapon's use in Iraq?'"

This story began with reports from the Middle-Eastern press that the US used illegal chemical weapons in Fallujah. The story then gained in credibility when Inter Press Service ran Dahr Jamail's article about the use of "unusual weapons". Both of these accounts are informed by the fact that the United States has admitted to using napalm in Iraq.

But it's still a speculative claim that napalm was used in Fallujah. All the eye-witness descriptions of these "unusual weapons" so far sound a lot more like white phosphorous rounds than napalm. Take for instance this excerpt from an al-Jazeera piece:

Abu Sabah, said; "They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud... then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of smoke behind them."

He said that pieces of these strange bombs explode into large fires that burn the skin even when water is thrown on the burns.

Phosphorous arms and the napalm gas are known to have such effects. "People suffered so much from these," Abu Sabah said.

Sabah is clearly talking about phosphorous arms, which makes sense given that it is a well-documented fact that the US used white phosphorous in Fallujah. Early on there were even media reports of "white phosphorous shells [lighting] up the sky." White phosphorous burns at incredibly high temperatures; it will burn through steel, concrete, and so forth. It's intended to burn through the buildings and rubble the insurgents are using as cover. In a sense, it is the Iraq War equivalent not of napalm, but of the defoliant Agent Orange.

I don't doubt that the US would use napalm in an environment rife with civilians. I just don't see any reason to fixate on this unsubstantiated claim when it is perfectly substantiated that white phosphorous was used in Fallujah and phosphorous rounds are napalm's equal in terms of vileness and horror.

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