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The Fire Shower

Peter Pritchard, ZNet

January 19, 2005 - It's a pleasant afternoon in Washington and the main street is being prepared for the President's motorcade. They've all been swept, the cameras and reporters are all in place, as are the barricades. All the protesters have been safely contained, and aren't within ten blocks of the street in any direction. Pre-approved families line the steel barricades, smiling and chattering in anticipation. Children are on their parent's shoulders waving flags, waiting to get a glimpse of the world's most powerful man.

The crowd starts to get a little louder, as murmurs that "he's coming" start rippling through the masses. The first cars in the line are police cruisers, four pairs traveling side by side. Then the men in black jogging beside two limousines come around the corner, all in perfect sync, scanning the area through dark glasses.

Then one of them sees it. One of the men in black sees an object moving through the air towards him with a trail of fire and smoke coming out the back. Then he hears the wine of the engine, and before he can move it slams into the ground just in front of one of the limousines. Now there's fire. Everywhere. And it's sticking to things, clinging to them as they burn. It burns everything, the men in black, the trees beside the limos, the parents holding their burning children, everything

The next day a terrorist cell based out of Washington releases a message: "Our target was your corrupt leader and his evil minions. The weapon used was not napalm, as suggested by the press, but a new type of incineration weapon that burns kerosene, which is much better for the environment."

After the news traveled through all the usual channels, everyone shrugged, said, "Oh, I guess that's different." and went back to their day-to-day routines.

Now, in today's world, this would seem like some sort of warped fiction and that if anyone used a weapon this horrific it would be condemned by the entire world, and the perpetrators would be brought to justice. But this kind of weapon is being used. Not as a last resort against an overwhelming enemy, but against poor people without means of escape. And the rest of the world is trying very hard to look the other way.

The United States has admitted to using to using MK77 firebombs against Iraqi troops stationed on a bridge leading to Baghdad. When questioned about it by the press they used two talking points to divert the question. The first was that the weapons were used on enemy troops. Of course there is no way of confirming this because first, the U.S. military is supplying no information about insurgents or civilians that it kills, and second, because the bodies were incinerated, so it will be pretty hard for anyone to identify them. Note, they are not denying using a weapon banned by the U.N., just saying they used it against enemy troops. (Not that anyone should be shocked they broke a rule established by the U.N.; a treaty the U.S. never signed anyway.) The second talking point used is that the new firebombs use kerosene instead of jet fuel, which burns cleaner, and is better for the environment. This is absolutely absurd, and I'm even surprised they used this point. If someone accused you of burning someone alive, would you just respond by saying at least you used a clean burning fuel? And yet these answers seem to make sense to a lot of people.

Now if this was the only reported incident of these weapons being used, these answers from the military wouldn't be an excuse or explanation, but could at least provide meager counter points to throw out when the issue arises. However, this is not the only time that these firebombs have been seen by the Iraqis. Aid workers and medics are reporting many severe burn wounds on civilians being brought to the hospitals. They say that the types of burns are most likely caused by the firebombs the U.S. had admitted to using earlier. However, Fallujah is not a bridge with enemy troops on it, it's a city full of innocent civilians, and many of the burn victims have been children. The MK77's are dumb bombs, meaning that they aren't guided by anything, once they're dropped from a plane they hit the ground, and their contents is released. These particular warheads are designed to tumble, to increase the area that their contents is spread across. This is hardly a "precision weapon", and hardly seems suitable for urban warfare, in areas heavily populated by civilians.

There is another much more subtle feature of these weapons. The military can say they aren't using napalm and technically not be lying. This is a very attractive feature considering the spin model that the current U.S. administration is using. Napalm is a mixture of benzene (21%), gasoline (33%), and polystyrene (46%) while the new MK77's use kerosene instead of the gasoline. This burns cleaner so the bombs can be described as "better for the environment". While this may seem ridiculous on paper (or screen) it has a very interesting effect when used in front of the camera, the government spokesperson will say that the weapon is different (which it is), and then say it burns cleaner (which it does), and that it's better for the environment. All of these statements are technically true and suggest that these new, clean burning bombs and not the horrible things of Vietnam. However, the bomb still scatters burning gel; that sticks to things and won' t be extinguished by water, either leaving victims incinerated or horribly wounded. Just like napalm. So in fact the difference between the two weapons are slight, and lets face it, if the weapon splatters burning chemicals over everything in it's path, the fact that it's also polluting the air seems less important. But this is the method that the Bush administration has used to distract attention from the many crimes it has committed.

The United States is going to require some level of trust from the Iraqi people if they are to succeed in any of their plans for the area. They have already committed the same atrocities at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prison that they condemned Saddam Hussein and his men for committing. Now they are using horrific chemical weapons that literally burn people alive with a fire that cannot be extinguished with water. And in fact the only thing that' s come close to the chemical weapons they were so desperately looking for are the ones in their own arsenal. Whether or not their crimes are on the same level as the previous regimes or not is irrelevant, it's the image they are projecting to the Iraqi population that they need to worry about if they are to bring peace.

References (incomplete): James W. Crawley, San Diego Union-Tribune August 5th, 2003 http://www.occupationwatch.org/article.php?id=360

Officials Confirm Dropping Firebombs on Iraqi Troops Results are 'remarkably similar' to using napalm by James W. Crawley, San Diego Union-Tribune August 5th, 2003 American jets killed Iraqi troops with firebombs - similar to the controversial napalm used in the Vietnam War - in March and April as Marines battled toward Baghdad.

Marine Corps fighter pilots and commanders who have returned from the war zone have confirmed dropping dozens of incendiary bombs near bridges over the Saddam Canal and the Tigris River. The explosions created massive fireballs.

"We napalmed both those (bridge) approaches," said Col. James Alles in a recent interview. He commanded Marine Air Group 11, based at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, during the war. "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. How many Iraqis died, the military couldn't say. No accurate count has been made of Iraqi war casualties.

The bombing campaign helped clear the path for the Marines' race to Baghdad.

During the war, Pentagon spokesmen disputed reports that napalm was being used, saying the Pentagon's stockpile had been destroyed two years ago.

Apparently the spokesmen were drawing a distinction between the terms "firebomb" and "napalm." If reporters had asked about firebombs, officials said yesterday they would have confirmed their use.

What the Marines dropped, the spokesmen said yesterday, were "Mark 77 firebombs." They acknowledged those are incendiary devices with a function"remarkably similar" to napalm weapons.

Rather than using gasoline and benzene as the fuel, the firebombs use kerosene-based jet fuel, which has a smaller concentration of benzene.

Hundreds of partially loaded Mark 77 firebombs were stored on pre-positioned ammunition ships overseas, Marine Corps officials said. Those ships were unloaded in Kuwait during the weeks preceding the war.

"You can call it something other than napalm, but it's napalm," said John Pike, defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.com, a nonpartisan research group in Alexandria, Va.

Although many human rights groups consider incendiary bombs to be inhumane, international law does not prohibit their use against military forces. The United States has not agreed to a ban against possible civilian targets.

"Incendiaries create burns that are difficult to treat," said Robert Musil, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Washington group that opposes the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Musil described the Pentagon's distinction between napalm and Mark 77 firebombs as "pretty outrageous."

"That's clearly Orwellian," he added.

Developed during World War II and dropped on troops and Japanese cities, incendiary bombs have been used by American forces in nearly every conflict since. Their use became controversial during the Vietnam War when U.S. and South Vietnamese aircraft dropped millions of pounds of napalm. Its effects were shown in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Vietnamese children running from their burned village.

Before March, the last time U.S. forces had used napalm in combat was the Persian Gulf War, again by Marines.

During a recent interview about the bombing campaign in Iraq, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Jim Amos confirmed aircraft dropped what he and other Marines continue to call napalm on Iraqi troops on several occasions. He commanded Marine jet and helicopter units involved in the Iraq war and leads the Miramar-based 3rd Marine Air Wing.

Miramar pilots familiar with the bombing missions pointed to at least two locations where firebombs were dropped.

Before the Marines crossed the Saddam Canal in central Iraq, jets dropped several firebombs on enemy positions near a bridge that would become the Marines' main crossing point on the road toward Numaniyah, a key town 40 miles from Baghdad.

Next, the bombs were used against Iraqis near a key Tigris River bridge, north of Numaniyah, in early April.

There were reports of another attack on the first day of the war.

Two embedded journalists reported what they described as napalm being dropped on an Iraqi observation post at Safwan Hill overlooking the Kuwait border.

Reporters for CNN and the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald were told by unnamed Marine officers that aircraft dropped napalm on the Iraqi position, which was adjacent to one of the Marines' main invasion routes.

Their reports were disputed by several Pentagon spokesmen who said no such bombs were used nor did the United States have any napalm weapons.

The Pentagon destroyed its stockpile of napalm canisters, which had been stored near Camp Pendleton at the Fallbrook Naval Weapons Station, in April 2001.

Yesterday military spokesmen described what they see as the distinction between the two types of incendiary bombs. They said mixture used in modern firebombs is a less harmful mixture than Vietnam War-era napalm.

"This additive has significantly less of an impact on the environment," wrote Marine spokesman Col. Michael Daily, in an e-mailed information sheet provided by the Pentagon.

He added, "many folks (out of habit) refer to the Mark 77 as 'napalm' because its effect upon the target is remarkably similar."

In the e-mail, Daily also acknowledged that firebombs were dropped near Safwan Hill.

Alles, who oversaw the Safwan bombing raid, said 18 one-ton satellite-guided bombs, but no incendiary bombs, were dropped on the site.

Military experts say incendiary bombs can be an effective weapon in certain situations.

Firebombs are useful against dug-in troops and light vehicles, said GlobalSecurity's Pike.

"I used it routinely in Vietnam," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor, now a prominent defense analyst. "I have no moral compunction against using it. It's just another weapon."

And, the distinctive fireball and smell have a psychological impact on troops, experts said.

"The generals love napalm," said Alles, who has transferred to Washington. "It has a big psychological effect."

:: Article nr. 8988 sent on 19-jan-2005 23:06 ECT


Link: www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=40&ItemID=7059

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