HRW tells U.S. coalition not to use white phosphorus in Mosul as assault weapon

Smoke rises over the city during clashes between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq March 25, 2017. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily

Mosul ( The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militants in Mosul should not use the banned white phosphorus in its artillery strikes on the extremist groups locations in the city as an assault weapon, according to Human Rights Watch.

“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, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “US-led forces should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm when using white phosphorus in Iraq and Syria.”

Though the group said the substance can also be used as an obscurant or a smoke screen, it can also serve as an incendiary weapon, HRW said in a report on Wednesday. It, however, noted that the rationale behind its use by the coalition in Syria and Iraq remained unclear.

“This multipurpose munition should never be used as an incendiary weapon to attack personnel or materiel in populated areas, even when delivered from the ground,” said the report.

“On contact, white phosphorus can also burn people, thermally and chemically, down to the bone as it is highly soluble in fat, and therefore in human flesh. White phosphorus fragments can exacerbate wounds even after treatment and can enter the bloodstream and cause multiple organ failure. Already dressed wounds can reignite when dressings are removed and they are re-exposed to oxygen. Even relatively minor burns are often fatal.,” the organization explained.

HRW, however, said it could not verify whether there were civilian injuries resulting from the use of the substance.

The Iraqi Joint Operations Command had said earlier this month that footage showing white pillows of smoke during Mosul battles were smoke screens used to blur vision for IS snipers and secure fleeing civilians.

The seven-month-old campaign in Mosul to drive out IS militants has so far displaced at least 800.000 civilians, with hundreds others sniped by IS militants or killed by mistake in Iraqi and coalition operations.

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