U.S. claims that cluster munitions have not caused significant damage to civilians in Iraq are highly misleading since the Pentagon is evidently citing only figures on air-dropped cluster bombs.
The U.S. Army has used ground-based Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and other artillery-launched cluster munitions in populated areas of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, Human Rights Watch said.
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers told a press conference today in Washington that coalition forces dropped "nearly 1,500 cluster bombs of varying types" during the war in Iraq, and that only 26 of those fell within 1,500 feet of civilian neighborhoods, causing only "one recorded case of collateral damage."
But Myers did not mention surface-launched cluster munitions, which are believed to have caused many more civilian casualties.
"To imply that cluster munitions caused virtually no harm to Iraqi civilians is highly disingenuous," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Instead of whitewashing the facts, the Pentagon needs to come clean about the Army's use of cluster munitions, which has been much more fatal to civilians."
Numerous media reports have provided eyewitness accounts of cluster munitions use against populated areas in the southern part of Baghdad. Newsday reported on April 15 that two children were killed, and one seriously injured, when a cluster munition they were playing with exploded.
According to media reports, cluster munitions have also caused injuries to U.S. troops. The Associated Press reported on April 23 that a U.S. army sergeant was killed in a cluster bomb explosion, and on April 19 that several U.S. service members were injured when a child handed an M-42 submunition to them and it blew up.
In the press conference, Gen. Myers also described cluster munitions as "precision guided."
In fact, the wide dispersal pattern of cluster munitions makes them difficult to target accurately. Moreover, because of their high failure rate, cluster munitions leave large numbers of hazardous, explosive duds that may cause injury or death to civilians long after the war is over. "Cluster munitions are not precision weapons," said Roth. "They are, in fact, indiscriminate weapons - which is why the U.S. military should never use them near populated areas."
Clearing populated areas of unexploded cluster munitions will require full disclosure of when and where the weapons were used. Human Rights Watch urged the U.S. military to provide information on surface-launched cluster munitions to assist explosive ordnance disposal teams.