The Center for Grassroots Oversight

This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=us_military_1763


Context of 'March 22, 2003: CNN and Australian Paper Say US Used Napalm in Iraq'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event March 22, 2003: CNN and Australian Paper Say US Used Napalm in Iraq. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The US Army Chemical Warfare Service, working with a Harvard University team of researchers led by Dr. Louis Fieser, develop napalm (naphthenic palmitic acids), a flammable, gasoline-based incendiary weapon. Early napalm is made by mixing the aluminum soap powder of naphthene and palmitate (naphthenic and palmitic acids) with gasoline. (Adams n.d. pdf file; Limqueco and Weiss 1971; Remes 2000) A later formula, referred to as “Napalm-B,” uses 46 percent polystyrene, 33 percent gasoline and 21 percent benzene. The US uses the weapon in all of its major conflicts. The incendiary weapon produces a fiery explosion that sometimes hits temperatures of more than 5,000 degrees. It sucks oxygen out of the air and can kill people who are not burned to death by asphyxiation. (Taylor 4/1/2001; Cubby 8/8/2003)

During the Vietnam war, the US uses a total of 373,000 tons of napalm. (Jensen 12/3/2000; Carroll 5/1/2001) One ton of napalm alone is enough to burn a football field in seconds. (BBC 4/24/2001) The use of napalm in Vietnam is widespread and is a favorite weapon of the US military command. General Paul Harkins says it “really puts the fear of God into the Vietcong—and that is what counts.” (Hilsman 1967) Pilots are given authority to use the weapon without prior authorization if the original target is inaccessible. (Herring 1986, pp. 10) Entire villages are destroyed by napalm bombs. (Deans n.d.)

In Geneva, Protocol III (Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons) of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is adopted on October 10, 1980, making it illegal to use incendiary weapons on civilian populations and restricting the use of these weapons against military targets that are located within a concentration of civilians. Such weapons are considered “to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects.” 51 countries initially sign the document and on December 2, 1983, its provisions are entered into force. By the end of 2004, 104 countries sign and 97 ratify the protocol. (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Protocol III 10/10/1980; United Nations 11/19/2004) The US is not a party to this protocol and continues to use incendiary weapons in all its major conflicts. It is the only country to do so. (Buncombe 8/10/2003)

Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois produces 500 Mark-77 firebombs for the US Marines. (Cubby 8/9/2003) Mark-77 firebombs are a more advanced and perfected design (see 1963-1973) of the napalm bombs that were used during Vietnam (see August 2003).

The United States admits to using Mark 77 firebombs, an incendiary weapon that has virtually the same effect as napalm (see 1942), in Iraq. The weapon is so similar in fact that troops commonly refer to it as napalm. (Savidge 3/21/2003; Murdoch 3/22/2003) In August 2003, Marine Colonel Mark Daly will confirm that Mark 77 bombs were dropped by Marine jets around the Kuwait-Iraq border at the start of the war. A senior Pentagon official confirms that the bombs have “similar destructive characteristics” to napalm. Early reports of “napalm” being used in an attack on Iraqi troops at Safwan Hill, near the Kuwait border, by an Australian journalist were denied by US officials, who claimed that the military destroyed its last batch of napalm in April 2001. However, only the Vietnam-era Napalm-B was actually destroyed. (Graham 8/10/2003) According to Marine Colonel Randolph Alles, “The generals love napalm—it has a big psychological effect.” (Crawley 8/5/2003) A Pentagon official says: “It is like this: you’ve got an enemy that’s hard to get at. And it will save your own lives to use it.” The Mark 77 is loaded with 44 pounds of gelling compound and 63 gallons of jet fuel. The use of incendiary weapons on civilian populations is banned by Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (see October 10, 1980-December 2, 1983), which also restricts the use of these weapons against military targets that are located within a concentration of civilians. The UN’s ban, passed in 1980, has never been signed by the US. (Graham 8/10/2003)

CNN and the Sydney Morning Herald report that the US used napalm to destroy an Iraqi intelligence gathering operation on top of Safwan Hill in southern Iraq. A source tells reporter Lindsay Murdoch that US Navy aircraft dropped 40,000 pounds of explosives and napalm (see 1942). However, a US Navy spokesman in Washington, Lieutenant Commander Danny Hernandez, denies that napalm was used in the attack. Hernandez claims that it is not even in the military’s arsenal. (Savidge 3/21/2003; Murdoch 3/22/2003) It is later learned (see August 2003) that the actual weapons were Mark 77 Firebombs, an incendiary weapon that has virtually the same effect as napalm.

The US says it is using Mark-77 firebombs in Iraq. Mark-77s are incendiary weapons that have a “remarkably similar” effect to that of napalm. The main difference between the two weapons is that Mark-77 firebombs use kerosene-based jet fuel whereas napalm used gasoline. The newer firebombs are also said to be more difficult to extinguish but to have less of an impact on the environment. (Crawley 8/5/2003; Agence France-Presse 8/8/2003) But critics say the difference is minute. Technically, the name, “napalm,” refers to the combination of naphthalene and palmitate which was used only in the very earliest versions of such bombs (see 1942). Later firebombs, such as the napalm used in Vietnam, was made from polystyrene instead. Yet these bombs continued to be referred to as napalm, or “Napalm-B.” Therefore critics say that by substituting jet fuel for gasoline, the military had just developed a more advanced napalm bomb. John Pike, director of the military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, explains: “You can call it something other than napalm but it is still napalm. It has been reformulated in the sense that they now use a different petroleum distillate, but that is it.” (Cubby 8/8/2003; Cubby 8/9/2003; Buncombe 8/10/2003)


Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike