Firebombs and white phosphorous (20 June 2005)

  • IAG press Release: US ARMY ORDERS NEW FIREBOMB STOCKS (20 June 2005)


    Iraq Analysis Group, 20/06/05, 16:00


    Challenged about the government’s false denial to Parliament about the US use of controversial napalm-type firebombs in Iraq, Defence Minister John Reid yesterday responded with further inaccurate statements about the weapons, contradicting a previous ministerial statement. Meanwhile new documents discovered by the Iraq Analysis Group show that the US army is producing new stocks of the controversial weapon.

    Ministers contradict each other

    Asked on ITV’s 'Jonathan Dimbleby programme' on Sunday about the US use of MK77 Mod 5 firebombs, Dr Reid replied:

    “they didn't use napalm. They used a firebomb. It doesn't stick to your skin like napalm, it doesn't have the horrible effects of that."[1]

    This appears to contradict Defence Minister Adam Ingram, who called Mark 77 firebombs “essentially napalm canisters” in a statement to Parliament earlier this year. [2] Napalm is itself a firebomb: although the last US stocks of MK77 Mod 4 napalm were decommissioned in 2001, the MK77 Mod 5 firebombs used in Iraq are simply an updated version using a slightly different fuel. US military spokespeople have also repeatedly stated that the MK77 has ‘remarkably similar’ effects to napalm.[3] US Army specifications for the MK77 firebomb confirm that the weapons are

    ‘designed for use against dug-in troops, supply installations, wooden structures, and land convoys...rupture upon impact and spread burning fuel gel on surrounding objects.’[4]

    Devasting weaponry

    Dr Douglas Holdstock of the UK medical charity Medact, said: “Dr Reid is hair-splitting. Both napalm and the MK77 are gel-based firebombs. They both seem likely to breach the basic principle of the international humanitarian law of war that weapons should not inflict “superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering”

    More firebombs in production

    Meanwhile, new documents discovered by the Iraq Analysis Group, an independent UK research group critical of UK humanitarian policy in Iraq, reveal that the US army has recently been stockpiling large quantities of new MK77 firebombs. Adam Ingram sought to reassure Labour MPs in a letter to Labour MP Harry Cohen last week that US forces had dropped MK77 firebombs only up to 21 April 2003. Nonetheless a Federal Procurement Solicitation issued on January 14 2004, and updated on June 7 2004, solicits manufacturers for a further 993 firebombs.[5]

    Mike Lewis, a spokesperson for the Iraq Analysis Group, said:

    “New US stockpiling of firebombs adds to the Government’s embarrassment that its Coalition ally is using these internationally reviled weapons in Iraq. If, as Dr Reid says, the UK is unwilling to use ‘anything that even approximates to what they were using’, then he should publicly restrain the US from using and stockpiling firebombs. Standing by while they are used in joint US/UK missions is simple hypocrisy.”


    [1] Quoted in Adam Sparrow, ‘Parliament Misled over Firebomb Use’, Daily Telegraph 20 June 2005

    [2] Commons Hansard, 11 January 2005: “Adam Ingram: The United States have confirmed to us that they have not used Mark 77 firebombs, which are essentially napalm canisters, in Iraq at any time”

    [3] ‘Officials confirm dropping firebombs on Iraqi troops’, San Diego Union Tribune, 5 August 2003. Compare also the statement by a Pentagon spokesperson in August 2003: ‘MK 77 is called Napalm due to the fact that their impact on targets resembles remarkably the use of Napalm’ [4]. Transcript from Monitor-TV, ARD, Germany, 7 August 2003. Original programme viewable at ; partial translation at

    [4] Federal Procurement Solicitation for MK77 Mod 5 Firebomb No. W52P1J04-R-0077, 13 January 2004,

    [5] Federal Procurement Solicitation for MK77 Mod 5 Firebomb No. W52P1J04-R-0077, 13 January 2004, ; update 5 June 2004 at