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U.S. statements about WP have added to the confusion. U.S. ambassador in London Robert Holmes Tuttle said U.S. forces "do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons." The army, however, had admitted using the weapon.

The question of whether WP is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which the U.S. is a signatory, is tricky. A spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons explained to the BBC, "No, it's not forbidden by the CWC if it is used within the context of a military application which does not require or does not intend to use the toxic properties of white phosphorus. White phosphorus is normally used to produce smoke, to camouflage movement.

"If that is the purpose for which the white phosphorus is used, then that is considered under the Convention legitimate use.

"If, on the other hand, the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that of course is prohibited, because the way the Convention is structured or the way it is in fact applied, any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons."

Sigfrido Ranucci, the Italian documentary maker, points to a declassified report on the use of WP on the Pentagon website headed, "Possible use of phosphorous chemical weapons by Iraq in Kurdish areas along the Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian borders." An intelligence source reports that in late February 1991, after the coalition victory in the war, Saddam came down hard against Kurds who had risen up, and adds, "Iraqi forces loyal to President Saddam may have possibly used white phosphorous chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels and the populace in Erbil and Dohuk. The WP chemical was delivered by artillery rounds and helicopter gunships."

The report went on: "Reports of possible WP chemical weapon attacks spread quickly among the populace in Erbil and Dohuk. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled from these two areas" into Turkey.

So, the Italian filmmaker points out, when Saddam uses WP it's a chemical weapon. When the Americans use WP, it is not.

Additional reporting: Isabel Huacuja and Ali Syed

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