The use of white phosphorus around the city of Mosul could pose a deadly risk to civilians fleeing the fighting in the coming days and weeks, Amnesty International has said.
The organization received credible witness and photographic evidence of white phosphorus projectiles fired over an area north of the village of Karemlesh, about 20 kilometres east of Mosul. White phosphorus is an incendiary substance which burns at extremely high temperatures upon exposure to air.
Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, said:
“White phosphorus can cause horrific injuries, burning deep into the muscle and bone. It is possible that some of it will only partially burn and could then reignite weeks after being deployed.
“This means that civilians who flee the fighting around Mosul or residents returning to check on their homes in Karemlesh in the coming days or weeks would be at risk of serious harm even though there may be few visible warning signs.”
Karemlesh has been depopulated since the predominately Assyrian population fled the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) in August 2014, but white phosphorus poses a clear and present danger to civilians fleeing Mosul towards Erbil who may pass through the contaminated area.
“We are urging Iraqi and coalition forces never to use white phosphorus in the vicinity of civilians. Even if civilians are not present at the time of its use, due to the residual risks they should not use airburst white phosphorus munitions unless it is absolutely necessary to achieve military objectives which cannot be accomplished through safer means," said Donatella Rovera.
Photographs taken by a New York Times photographer on 20 October show white phosphorus munitions bursting near Karemlesh. Clashes between IS and Iraqi government forces were taking place in Hamdaniya (Qaraqosh), a few kilometres south of Karemlesh at the time.
(Source: Amnesty International)