During the first week of June, it was reported that the United States was using white phosphorus to find Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria. Following reports and videos, international lawyers and activists alike were quick to voice their outrage.
The traditional weapons guideline, Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons, explicitly outlines that the use of incendiary weapons against civilians is forbidden. Though eighty countries subscribe to this protocol we, the United States, do not. Instead, we frequently utilize white phosphorus to protect our troops during military operations and stealth attacks.
In the case of the June 4 attack in Mosul and the June 8 attack in Raqqa, the U.S. has remained firm in its position that no human rights atrocities or international illegalities were committed. The general defense is that troops needed a smokescreen to combat supposed ISIL strongholds in Syrian and Iraqi towns.
Sympathizers and online military “experts” have argued in favor of America’s actions, noting that white phosphorus also provides civilians with an easy escape under the cover of smoke. Furthermore, others have noted that civilian losses in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are mere normalcies in the never ending “war on terror“.
Herein lies the error of the current strife in countries such as Yemen, Syria, and Libya. In every situation since 9/11, regardless of the acting U.S. administration, civilian lives in the MENA have been deemed causalities of war.
As a response to barbarism and violence, American national security is found through attacks against “imminent threats,” regardless of plausibility or consideration for the surrounding local families. The U.S. tends to sit above the law, condemning the international pitfalls of other countries while failing to recognize our own.
As the old saying goes, it’s all fair in love and war. In the case of United States versus the Islamic State, the mindset is generally an eye for an eye, a bomb for a bomb.
However, debates regarding the legality of white phosphorus are meaningless in the face of decimated populations. Within the first week of June, 484 people died in Iraq and Syria. Amidst the sudden white rains and chemical downpours, it is said that people screamed and searched for shelter as they fled their homes.
Such an incendiary attack is far from being a silent killer or an angel of quick death. Unlike traditional bombs, the chemical explodes and immediately self-ignites to cloth, fuel, and human flesh. When researching the effects of white phosphorus on skin, one will find that the descriptions and images prove to be generally harrowing and horrific.
As the smoke screen creeps in slowly, any inhalation of the white phosphorus will cause organ failure and eventual death. What the United States has so casually written off as a casualty is truly an atrocity.
Those who were caught in the fire littered the streets of Raqqa and Mosul were covered in third degree burns, visibly cloaked in a white film that was mixed with blood, discernible crater-sized wounds, and painful boils. These horrific accounts are not isolated.
“No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like Raqqa and Mosul and any other areas with concentrations of civilians,” said Steve Goose, the arms director at Human Rights Watch.
“U.S.-led forces should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm when using white phosphorus in Iraq and Syria.” However, when the white phosphorus is removed, another bomb drops and carelessly displaces countless civilians.
The more lives that are taken from the MENA, the more the U.S. plays into ISIL’s cruel agenda. We fuel the fire each time we bomb the MENA region and then ban asylum seekers from entering our country.
Countless years have been spent “fighting terror” in theory, while the reality has been the devastation of numerous Muslim countries, emboldened radical mercenaries, and power vacuums.
It’s time to take accountability for our role in the war on terror. If the goal to is to end this age of terrorism, there must be immediate restructuring and reevaluation of our loose justifications for civilian deaths and haphazard attacks.
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