Napalm in Iraq

From Holden:

A devastating analysis from PolitcalAffairs.net.

US officials have been forced to admit using the MK-77 incendiary, a modern form of napalm, at least during the initial fighting stage of the war. In direct contradiction, the UK government continues to deny that such weapons have been used in Iraq at any time. The UK is party to an international convention banning incendiaries where they may cause harm to civilians. In Iraq, UK forces are part of a coalition which does not adhere to internationally agreed standards of warfare.

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The US military has in its current arsenal a modern form of napalm. Known as the MK-77 Mod 5, the bombs are dropped from aircraft and ignite on impact. They contain a lethal mixture of aircraft fuel and polystyrene, which forms a sticky, flammable gel. As it burns, the gel sticks to structures and to the bodies of its victims. The light aluminium containers lack stabilising fins, making them far from precision weapons.

The MK-77 is the only incendiary now in use by the US military. It is an evolution of the napalm bombs M-47 and M-74 that were used in Vietnam and Korea. In the new weapon, the flammable gel is made up of kerosene-based jet fuel and polystyrene. The MK-77 bomb reportedly also contains an oxidizing agent. This makes it even more difficult to put out once ignited.

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Use of incendiary weapons is restricted under the 1980 UN Convention on Weapons Which May Be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects. Protocol III of this Convention makes it “prohibited in all circumstances to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by air-delivered incendiary weapons” (article II.2). The UK ratified both the Convention and Protocol III on 13 February 1995, and remains fully bound to them. More than 80 other countries around the world have ratified the treaty, and almost none retain incendiary weapons in their arsenals. However, although the United States has ratified the convention, it has not signed up to the protocol on incendiary weapons. It continues to stockpile and use napalm-type weapons.

“Most of the world understands that napalm and incendiaries are a horrible, horrible weapon,” said Robert Musil, director of the organisation Physicians for Social Responsibility. “It takes up an awful lot of medical resources. It creates horrible wounds.”

Incendiary weapons have been issued to US forces in Iraq, apparently mainly to Marine Corps aviation wings. Incendiaries were used against Iraqi troops during the 2003 invasion, and there is growing evidence that use continues, including in Fallujah.

Two embedded reporters (from the Sydney Morning Herald and CNN) witnessed a fire bomb attack on an Iraqi observation post near Kuwaiti border on 21 March 2003.

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Despite this and other eyewitness accounts, US officials initially denied claims that napalm weapons were being deployed[4]. However, as military personnel and journalists in Iraq persistently presented evidence of their use, by August 2003 Pentagon spokesmen were forced to admit that MK-77 firebombs had been dropped[5]. This has since been confirmed by the State Department, in direct contradiction to UK government statements[6].

Past denials were justified on the grounds that questioners had used the term ‘napalm’ instead of ‘firebombs’ or ‘MK-77s’. The US claims to have destroyed all its stocks of ‘napalm’ and argues that the MK-77 cannot be included in this term. However, the Pentagon admits that the MK-77 is an incendiary with a function ‘remarkably similar’ to that of napalm[7].

In fact, the US military itself refers to the new-generation MK-77 as ‘napalm’. The term is even used in official documents such as Defend America, the monthly US Department of Defense publication describing the progress of the ‘war on terror’. In February 2003 the publication proudly described preparations for the coming war, detailing the build-up of weapons in Kuwait:

Everything from hand grenades to 2,000-pound bombs and napalm are shipped, ready for use whenever 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing needs them.[8]

Military personnel routinely refer to MK-77 incendiaries as ‘napalm’:

‘We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches’, said Colonel Alles, commander of Marine Air Group 11. ‘Unfortunately, there were people there because you could see them in the [cockpit] video. They were Iraqi soldiers there. It’s no great way to die’. He added, ‘The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect.’[9]

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In November 2004 US forces launched a massive attack on the city of Fallujah. Much of the city was destroyed and tens of thousands of residents fled as refugees.

Rumours have emerged of burnt and melted bodies in the city, consistent with the use of napalm or the equally controversial weapon white phosphorus (also known as ‘Willy Pete’).

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In February this year Iraqi Health Ministry official Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli reportedly alleged that napalm, along with other banned substances, had been used in Fallujah. He had been commissioned by the Ministry to assess conditions in the city after the assault[13]. The US strenuously denies that any MK-77 bombs were used in the Fallujah assault.

Since the first reports emerged of napalm-type weapons being used in Iraq, the question has repeatedly been raised in the UK Parliament. UK Ministers have explicitly denied that napalm-type incendiaries have been used in Iraq by US troops. They have even specifically denied the use of MK-77 weapons. This is in the face of official admissions by the US government.