A US military has official confirmed that white phosphorous bombs were deployed against insurgents in Iraq last year but denied
media reports they used against civilians.
“White phosphorus is a conventional munition. It is not a chemical weapon. They are not outlawed or illegal,” Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, told the BBC in an interview.
“We use them primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases. However, it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants.”
Italy’s state television RAI claimed last week the highly flammable munitions were used against insurgents and civilians in the Iraqi town of Fallujah in November last year.
Radical left-wing Italian politicians joined a protest at the US embassy on Monday, including communist deputy Piero Folena, who called for a United Nations inquiry into the alleged use of such weapons in Fallujah.
The RAI documentary, “Fallujah — The Hidden Massacre”, said the US military used a kind of napalm and white phosphorus in the battle, a claim denied by the US State Department.
Robert Tuttle, US ambassador to Britain, wrote in a letter published by The Independent newspaper on Tuesday that “US forces do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons”.
But Lt Col Venable said white phosphorous was useful to shift insurgents from positions that could not be targeted by normal artillery.
“It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants,” he told the BBC.
“When you have enemy forces that are in covered positions that your high explosive artillery rounds are not having an impact on… one technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position,” he said.
“The combined effects of the fire and smoke — and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground — will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives.”
Meanwhile the US senate has voted 79 to 19 earlier to require the Bush administration to make regular progress reports on Iraq.
Senator John Warner of Virginia, the amendment’s republican sponsor, said it was intended to send a strong message to Iraqis that the US had done its share and now it was time for them to establish a formal democracy.
An amendment sponsored by Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat, called for a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces in Iraq was rejected 40 to 58.
The action came as polls showed eroding public support for the war in Iraq.
According to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll just published, the president’s approval rating hit a record low of 37 per cent.
Of those responding, 52 per cent said the phrase “is honest and trustworthy” did not apply to Mr Bush while 48 per cent said they trust Mr Bush less than they trusted former president Bill Clinton.