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Highlighting the Cruel Nature of Iraqi Regime

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2003 – Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, defense officials have pointed out the Iraqi regime's policy of consistently ignoring the laws of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions.

From setting death squads on their own people to holing up in mosques and shrines, regime forces have flouted international conventions.

The most recent, and a most egregious, example is in the Ali Mosque in Najaf.

After Mecca and Medina, the Ali Mosque is the most sacred shrine for Shi'ia Islam. Shiite Islam originated as a political movement supporting Ali - the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam - as the rightful leader of the Islamic state. The majority of southern Iraqis are Shi'ia.

The mosque houses the tomb of Ali.

As coalition forces entered Najaf, Iraqi forces holed up in the mosque and began firing on members of the 101st Airborne Division. The American soldiers would not return fire, said Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy chief of operations for U.S. Central Command.

"The regime use of the Ali Mosque for military purposes to trigger a coalition response is just the latest detestable example of the regime's strategy of putting sacred sites in danger," he said.

Brooks stressed that under the laws of war American troops could return fire. "We chose not to fire back," he said. "And that's a very important distinction. The regime is firing from within a mosque: Something that doesn't have military value, and that should be protected by them. It's being protected by us."

Brooks said this example showcases the U.S. approach to cultural and humanitarian areas. "While we do always have the choice of returning fire to respond to any threat that's posed on the battlefield, we approach all of our decisions on the battlefield - even at the lowest tactical level - ... with discrimination, with consideration to the outcome of that action," he said.

In village after village, coalition forces are seeing the same examples. "This is more than just the decision of a local commander. It's too widespread for that," said a defense official. Schools are armories for the Iraqi regimes. Hospitals are headquarters for death squad commanders.

Brooks said coalition forces are seeing a clear pattern of violations. In several towns, Iraqi paramilitary forces are storing their weapons and weapons caches inside schools - often with children still using the facility.

The hospital in Nasiriyah, where coalition special operations forces rescued Army Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch, forces also found ammunition, mortars and other equipment that pointed to its nature as a military headquarters.

At the first hospital coalition forces encountered outside Nasiriyah, there was a T-55 tank parked outside. Brooks conjectured the Iraqis placed the tank there in hopes that coalition forces would fire on it and the regime could make propaganda value out of the action.

Using these facilities for military purposes is clearly against the laws of armed conflict, Brooks said.

"The enemy poses as civilians to deceive coalition forces and ambush them," said Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke during a press conference March 29. "They fake surrenders to ambush them. They continue to place military assets in and around civilians. They use human shields, deliberately destroy or attempt to destroy the oil fields. And they use civilian vehicles, including ambulances, to transport their military."

In addition to these clear violations, the Iraqi regime uses death squads to enforce its will on what's left of its army and the Republican Guard.

These death squads report to the Hussein family directly, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during a March 28 press conference. "Their ranks are populated with criminals released from Iraqi prisons," he said. "They dress in civilian clothes and operate from private homes, confiscated from innocent people, and try to blend in with the civilian population."

President Bush highlighted the cruelty of the Iraqi regime well before the war started. In his radio address March 15, Bush spoke of Saddam Hussein's henchmen.

"We know from human rights groups that dissidents in Iraq are tortured, imprisoned and sometimes just disappear; their hands, feet and tongues are cut off; their eyes, gouged out; and female relatives are raped in their presence," the president said.

Rumsfeld said that in another instance the Fedayeen Saddam beheaded people with swords. "They put on American and British uniforms to try to fool regular Iraqi soldiers into surrendering to them, and then execute them as an example for others who might contemplate defection or capitulation," he said.

"Their name, Fedayeen Saddam, is a lie, because their purpose is certainly not to make martyrs of themselves, but to make martyrs of innocent Iraqis opposed to Saddam's rule," the secretary said March 28. "But we will take them at their word, and if their wish is to die for Saddam Hussein, they will be accommodated."

The treatment of prisoners of war is another area where the Iraqi regime clearly is violating the Geneva Conventions. Coalition forces have more than 4,500 Iraqi prisoners of war. The International Red Cross has met with these prisoners and ascertained that they are being treated humanely.

The Iraqis hold at least seven Americans, with 15 more listed as missing in action. The Red Cross has not seen the American POWs. The families of those men and women have no idea if their loved ones are being treated well.

Iraqi television broadcast videos of captured U.S. service members and the dead bodies of others. The Geneva Conventions specifically forbid captors from broadcasting these images if they are made to humiliate the service members.

Even more disturbing than this are charges that Iraqi death squads executed coalition soldiers after they surrendered. Prime Minister Tony Blair charged the Iraqis with murdering two British soldiers. Again, the Iraqi broadcast pictures of their dead bodies.

According to U.S. officials, there are more reports:

o The Iraqis executed 16 Kurds in the city of Kirkuk.

o Iraqi death squads in Basra have fired mortars and machine guns at civilians trying to escape their grasp.

o The death squads hanged a woman for waving to a coalition convoy.

o Iraqi forces feigned surrender and killed a number of U.S. Marines who approached them to take them prisoner.

o Iraqi armed forces have used women and children as human shields.

Even those who volunteered to be human shields for Saddam Hussein have learned how vicious this regime is. In the April 2 press briefing, spokeswoman Clarke quoted from a story about Daniel Pepper - who volunteered to serve as a human shield in Baghdad.

The story was in the London Sunday Telegraph newspaper on March 23. In it Pepper said, "I was shocked when I first met a pro-war Iraqi in Baghdad, a taxi driver taking me back to my hotel late at night. I explained that I was an American and said, as we shields always did, 'Bush bad, war bad, Iraq good.'

"He looked at me with an expression of incredulity. As he realized I was serious, he slowed down and started to speak in broken English about the evils of Saddam's regime," Clarke quoted Pepper as saying. "Until then, I had only heard the president, Saddam, spoken of with respect, but now this guy was telling me how all of Iraq's oil money went into Saddam's pocket, and that if you opposed him politically, he would kill your whole family."

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