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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Insurgent attacks on civilians are war crimes, rights group says

AMMAN, 6 October 2005 (IRIN) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Arab civil society organizations that support the insurgents in Iraq to denounce the rebels’ practice of targeting civilians in their fight against foreign troops.

The New York-based organization described the Islamic insurgents’ daily attacks on civilians as “war crimes.”

HRW said in a report published this week that it was engaged in a dialogue with civic leaders throughout the Arab world and was encouraging them to speak out strongly against the targeting of civilians Iraqi insurgents.

"People we have spoken with in the Middle East are increasingly repulsed by the behaviour of insurgent groups in Iraq, even if they support a withdrawal of US troops," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division.

"It is time for political and religious leaders who support the insurgency to denounce the atrocities in public," she said at the public launch of the HRW report in the Jordanian capital Amman.

The report, entitled “A Face and a Name; Civilian Victims of Insurgent Groups in Iraq,” said the three organizations most responsible for attacks on non-combatants were; al-Qaeda in Iraq, Ansar al-Sunna and the Islamic Army in Iraq.

"The first two groups have repeatedly boasted about massive car bombs and suicide bombs in mosques, markets, bus stations and other civilian areas," it said, adding that all three groups had abducted and executed civilians.

The HRW report documented the assassination of government officials, politicians, judges, journalists, humanitarian aid workers, doctors, professors and those deemed to be collaborating with US troops in Iraq, including translators, cleaners and others who perform civilian jobs.

"Allegations that these communities are legitimate targets because they support foreign forces in Iraq have no basis in international law, which requires the protection of any civilian who is not actively participating in the hostilities," it stated.

Torture and summary executions

HRW accused the insurgent groups of torturing and summarily executing civilians and combatants in their custody, sometimes by beheading.

"The deliberate targeting of civilians during an armed conflict constitutes a war crime," Human Rights Watch said in the report, published on its website at

It rejected the argument put forward by many civic and religious leaders in the Arab world that attacks on civilians associated with the US presence are justified because all means are legitimate to liberate the country from foreign forces.

"Regardless of the violations committed by US and Iraqi forces, almost daily attacks on civilians have had a devastating impact on the people of Iraq and further undermine the respect for the rule of law," HRW said.

Many Arabs hesitate to condemn suicide attacks in Iraq. They say the heavy-handed US military presence in Iraq is to blame for the insurgents’ attacks, many of which lead to heavy civilian casualties.

"Denouncing resistance groups that are fighting the US occupation of our land without condemning those who are responsible for the untold tragedies that the occupation has caused is unacceptable," said Abu Mansour, the alias of an Iraqi with ties to one insurgent group that says it focuses on US military targets and tries to avoid harming civilians.

"The real war crimes are those that are being committed by US forces. The resistance is in a state of war and the main aim is not kill an innocent man," he told IRIN by phone from an undisclosed location.

Many Iraqi insurgent groups argue that their goal is to inflict as much damage as possible on legitimate military targets, but that civilian deaths are unavoidable in a bloody conflict in which their enemy has failed to adhere to any humane norms of war.

Sheikh Hamza Mansour, the head of Jordan’s Islamic Action Front, the country's largest opposition party, maintained that Iraqi civilians working with the US-led occupation forces must accept the consequences of their actions.

"If anyone agrees to become a human shield for the occupation, the judgment against him is that he must be confronted like the occupation,” he told IRIN, reflecting a widespread view among Islamists and many ordinary Arabs.

HRW admitted that the US-led invasion of Iraq and the ensuing military occupation had resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths and had sparked the emergence of an armed resistance movement in the country.

"But that does not justify attacks by insurgent groups that have deliberately targeted and killed civilians," Whitson stressed.

Previous HRW reports on Iraq have documented the US military's use of indiscriminate and excessive force, illegal detention and torture at prisons like Abu Ghraib. They have also denounced torture by the Iraqi police.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights




This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

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