The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross has called for combatants in Iraq to protect civilians and prisoners. The Red Cross and its sister organization, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, have launched appeals for more than $235 million to aid Iraqis.
The Red Cross says the Geneva Conventions governing the rules of war must be respected in Iraq. Red Cross Operations Chief Pierre Kraehenbeuhl said the Conventions ban direct attacks against civilians and require warring sides to take every precaution to spare civilians.
"Every care has to be taken to avoid unnecessary sufferings, superfluous injuries that are also in the type of weapons that would be used, and certainly that attacks would discriminate between civilian and military objects and targets," he said. "In terms of human shields, it is prohibited under international humanitarian law to expose civilians to threats of attack and therefore to place them in places that are potential military targets."
The Conventions also stipulate that the injured and prisoners of war must be protected and cared for. The use of biological and chemical weapons is also banned.
Unlike the United Nations and other aid agencies, the Red Cross is maintaining foreign staff members in Iraq during the war. They will work with local employees to treat the wounded, provide relief goods to people displaced by fighting, and make emergency repairs to Iraq's water and sewage systems.
Mr. Kraehenbuehl said as the lead agency providing these services in Iraq, the Red Cross' neutrality must be respected. He reported Red Cross staff in Baghdad and northern Iraq have been able to carry out their work.
"In Baghdad, they see a situation that is relatively stable," he said. "There have been medical supplies provided to one hospital, the al-Kindi hospital during the day. There have been other reports by our colleagues in the north, where they have observed a certain number of initial displacements of a few families."
Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, has made an urgent appeal to Iraq's neighbors to keep their borders open to those fleeing fighting. Refugee agency spokesman Kris Janowski said his agency has also asked neighboring governments to provide aid organizations access to their border areas.
"Often when there is conflict, governments are nervous. They are quite nervous and restrictive about access to border zones," he said. "We need that access. We want to make sure that people are not being pushed back, but also to be able to help them and help the governments."
The refugee agency said it has been allowed to pre-position tents and non-food items in Iran, Turkey, Jordan, and Syria to aid refugees; but it said Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have closed their borders to Iraqi refugees.