There is complete political and media silence surrounding the US-led coalition’s use of deadly white phosphorus in Mosul and Raqqa. At the same time, there is a flood of statements by politicians and journalists condemning the weapons used by Daesh in the same two cities.
The first victims in both cases are the ordinary people on the ground. The numbers of dead, displaced and expelled people are increasing all the time. However, statistics have no meaning in the absurd race between opposing forces whose “victory” over the other will be built upon mounds of bodies, sometimes buried under the rubble of their homes, and at other times within buildings burnt to the ground.
In this killing contest, both sides are equal. The first terrorist group is the Anglo-American alliance that invaded, occupied and established sectarianism and corruption. It invests the spirit of revenge within the imported politicians. They should take prime responsibility, regardless of how much the media spins the reality and institutions of democratic propaganda and psychological-military incitement try to cover this up.
The second terrorist group is made up of the people who created the occupation and its crimes and facilitated the emergence of organisations that have become increasingly crazier and more savage with time. Their terrorism is the obverse of the state terrorism which has violated an entire nation and destroyed a country. This group has arrested, tortured and murdered on a daily basis with local and international blessings under the pretext that has become the most offensive to the human mind — “combatting terrorism”.
Under this ill-defined umbrella, which is subject to selective interpretations and ready-made media coverage, assassinations are carried out by drones, as is the case in Yemen, and cities are bombed, such as in Gaza, Syria, and Iraq. Recently in Iraq, American pilots were accused of being drunk while they bombed Mosul. Hundreds of civilians were killed, but the US military issued a statement claiming that they were targeting Daesh sites based on Iraqi military intelligence.
The reaction of the Iraqi government and MPs to the accusation made against the US troops — not, notice, against the bombing — sounded like the chirping of baby chicks when they emerge from their eggs; it lasted a few hours and then disappeared. The current crime being committed by the US forces is the use of white phosphorous in Mosul and Raqqa. The response from Iraqi officials has been even less noticeable. Why? Is it because white phosphorous is a “smart” substance that recognises Daesh fighters and pursues them, burning them alone, even if they are amongst other people? Or is it because it is an American product blessed by the Arab systems capable of strengthening the resolve of the citizens in fighting terrorist organisations? Or is it another quick weapon to clear certain cities of their populations?
White phosphorous is not banned as a chemical weapon per se, in accordance with international covenants. However, it should not be used in civilian areas because it has formidable immediate and long-term effects on human flesh. It burns the flesh upon contact, and remains active even if buried in the ground for some time.
The US sees no harm in using it around the world in its various wars. It used it in Vietnam; it used it more recently in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004. Israel used white phosphorous against the Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip in 2009. In 2016, the Saudi-led coalition used it in Yemen. Britain’s Times newspaper published a report titled “Mosul’s liberators accused of using phosphorus” in October 2016, accusing the coalition forces of dropping a white phosphorus bomb on the village of Karemlash, near Mosul, according to reports and photos documenting the issue by Amnesty International. Although the village of Karemlash was evacuated, the white phosphorus may remain in the soil posing a danger to the inhabitants long after they return to their homes.
“White phosphorus can cause horrific injuries, burning deep into the muscle and bone,” explained Donatella Rovera, a researcher with Amnesty. “It is possible that some of it will only partially burn and could then reignite weeks after being deployed.”
Despite the horrific effects of white phosphorus on human beings (or perhaps because of them), the US troops dropped more white phosphorus bombs on Mosul on 3 June and Raqqa on 9 June. This killed 20 people at an Internet café, reported Human Rights Watch.
Armies are warned not to use white phosphorus “as a burning weapon to attack people or facilities in populated areas” as it would “add yet another poison to a dirty war in which chemicals have been repeatedly used as a weapon.” What is the position of the Arab governments that claim to represent their people and protect them? They have no clear or explicit position. The governments are in the same camp as those using these weapons, if they are not using them against their people. The accusations and condemnations, if issued, are nothing more than that.
The double-standards of the Arab countries towards their people, which are dictated by oppression and tyranny, not to mention the hypocritical policies of the superpowers in the application of democracy and selective human rights, is almost forcing the Arabs to stand on the brink of an abyss where they can only look down. The pit is filled with despair, frustration and the emergence of a new generation of tent dwellers marginalised on the perimeter of human society. A large number of them are vulnerable to being recruited by anyone who provides them with a helping hand or a gun; many of them are the children of this “dirty war”.
What will the future hold for them, and the rest of us? They who are subject to daily threats and deadly bombs, and whose existence is intertwined with destitution and dignity, will shape the future of the countries they live in, as will their children who are deprived of both care and education. There is little meaning to the words homeland or citizenship and, therefore, loyalty. It is these whose influence will spread across the world.
Translated from Al-Quds Al-Arabi, 20 June 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.