Elite Republican Guard Units are Pounded by Cluster Bombs

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Elite Republican Guard Units are Pounded by Cluster Bombs

Birmingham Post, 5 april 2003

Labour backbenchers opposed to the war on Iraq have demanded the suspension of the parliamentary Easter recess.

It would be unacceptable for MPs to take the two-week break, scheduled to start on April 15, which could coincide with the bloodiest phase of the war, the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs said.

The group has tabled a motion calling for suspension of the recess or a recall of Parliament if there was an escalation of hostilities.

There was growing concern among Labour backbenchers at the 'appalling scale of human suffering being inflicted on the people of Iraq and the increasing number of deaths of British troops through 'friendly fire',' the MPs said.

'It would be unacceptable for Members of Parliament to be on holiday or in their constituencies while hundreds are being slaughtered on the streets of the Iraqi capital,' said the group, chaired by John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington.

British pilots have pounded Saddam Hussein's elite fighting forces with 50 cluster bombs, the Chief of the Air Staff confirmed yesterday.

The cluster bombs have a 'unique capability' against certain targets that are well away from built-up areas, Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire said.

'We have dropped some 50 clusters. They have all been targeted against Republican Guard divisions well away from Baghdad as the forces have gone north.

'We have recorded where the weapons have gone to assist clear-up after the conflict.'

Sir Peter said the clusters were a 'lawful' weapon and that every effort was being made to ensure minimum civilian casualties.

The decision on when to use clusters is being left to the 'judgment' of commanders.

Sir Peter said the commanders would use them if they felt it would help to ' achieve the particular objective, take out the enemy threat and hopefully, in doing so, minimise casualties on both sides'.

The RAF's inventory of cluster bombs look like normal bombs when attached to the aircraft but when they are released, they break open in the airflow and release 147 bomblets into the target area.

The BL755 bomb dispenses its bomblets into the airflow shortly after the weapon leaves the aircraft and on reaching their target they produce a plasma jet that can burn a hole through armour.

In addition, the bomblet casing breaks into fragments that are capable of destroying softskinned vehicles and equipment. Recent improvements to the bomblets include better reliability and armour penetration capability.

Campaigners such as Landmine Action point to the large number of people, many of them children, who were killed and maimed when cluster bombs were used in Kuwait.

In defending the use of cluster bombs the British government was overlooking the fact that they were likely to kill and maim civilian men, women and children in Iraq now and 'for years to come', according to Kate Allen, Amnesty International's UK director.

She said: 'Growing evidence of the high failure rate and unstable nature of cluster bombs, turning them into de facto landmines, means these weapons pose an unacceptable risk both to civilians and the forces that use them.'