Saturday, January 10, 2009

White phosphorus (weapon)

White phosphorus (weapon)

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White phosphorus (WP) is a flare- and smoke-producing incendiary weapon,[1] or smoke-screening agent, made from a common allotrope of the chemical element phosphorus. White phosphorus bombs and shells are incendiary devices, but can also be used as an offensive anti-personnel flame compound capable of causing serious burns or death.[2] The agent is used in bombs, artillery shells, and mortar shells, short range missiles which burst into burning flakes of phosphorus upon impact. White phosphorus is commonly referred to in military jargon as "WP". The slang term "Willy(ie) Pete" or "Willy(ie) Peter", dating from the First World War and common at least through the Vietnam era, is still occasionally heard.

White phosphorus weapons are controversial today because of their potential use against civilians. While the Chemical Weapons Convention does not designate WP as a chemical weapon, various unofficial groups consider it to be one. In recent years, the United States, Israel and Russia have used white phosphorus in combat.

Its use by the US has resulted in considerable controversy (see white phosphorus use in Iraq). Initial field reports from Iraq referred to white phosphorus use against insurgents,[3] but its use was officially denied until November, 2005,[4] when the Pentagon admitted[5] to the use of white phosphorus while stating that its use for producing obscuring smoke is legal and does not violate the Chemical Weapons Convention.[6] A Pentagon spokesman has also admitted that WP "was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants", though not against civilians.[7]

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