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US fired phosphorus in Iraq, TV reports

ROME -- Italian television aired a documentary yesterday alleging that the United States had used white phosphorus shells ''in a massive and indiscriminate way" against civilians in the November 2004 offensive in the Iraqi town of Fallujah.

The US military has denied that it used white phosphorus against civilians. It confirmed, however, that US forces had dropped MK 77 firebombs, which a documentary on Italian state-run broadcaster RAI compared to napalm, against military targets in Iraq in March and April 2003.

The documentary showed images of bodies recovered after a November 2004 offensive by US troops on Fallujah, which it said proved the use of white phosphorus against men, women, and children who were burned to the bone.

An incendiary device, white phosphorus is also used to light up combat areas.

The use of incendiary weapons against civilians has been banned by the Geneva Convention since 1980. The United States did not sign the relevant protocol to the convention, a UN official in New York said.

''I do know that white phosphorus was used," said Jeff Englehart in the RAI documentary, which identified him as a former soldier in the US 1st Infantry Division who had taken part in the Falluja offensive. ''White phosphorus kills indiscriminately."

The US Marines in Baghdad described white phosphorus as a ''conventional munition" used primarily for smoke screens and target marking. It denied using it against civilians.

''Suggestions that US forces targeted civilians with these weapons are simply wrong," US Marine Major Tim Keefe said in an e-mail message. ''Had the producers of the documentary bothered to ask us for comment, we would have certainly told them that the premise of the program was erroneous."

He said US forces do not use chemical weapons in Iraq.

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