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Ex-Egyptian General Says Iraqi Violations of Geneva Convention Justified

Coalition forces have complained that Iraq has been violating rules of the Geneva Conventions in several ways. The guardian of Geneva Conventions, the International Committee of the Red Cross, says without these rules war-time atrocities would probably be more common than they are. The Geneva Conventions have been incorporated into the military training of 190 countries. But a retired Egyptian army general sees things differently, even though Egypt is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions.

Coalition military leaders report that at least one group of Iraqi troops opened fire on approaching U.S. Marines, after having waved a white flag indicating they were surrendering.

That would violate the Geneva Conventions' rules of engagement according to Philip Spoerri, who is the legal counsel to the guardian of Geneva Convention rules, the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"If you have recognized signs like a flag of truce or a white flag or you would have the recognized emblems of the Red Cross, which are carrying out particular tasks, and you use these to simulate a surrender then you kill, injure an enemy opponent, then this is described in the convention as an act which is forbidden," he said. "So you clearly have it as a violation of the Geneva Convention, there is no doubt. Using recognized symbols to trick your enemy and then harm him, kill him, injure him, that is definitely forbidden."

But some military analysts say they can not understand why military commanders would complain about such a trick. Former Egyptian General Mohammed Kadry Sa'id is now the head of the military unit at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

"For the Iraqis it is a matter of life and death, and, in my view, in their territory they can do everything. I do not see this is a violation or even some ethical rules of such things because without that they may be killed by the Americans and the British," he said.

Coalition forces have also said that Iraqi troops are using civilians as human shields and are hiding heavy military equipment, including missile launchers, in or near residential areas and at historic sites. Mr. Sa'id says when it comes to war soldiers should expect anything and everything.

The coalition has also complained about Iraq showing prisoners and the bodies of dead soldiers on television, which British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon has called a flagrant abuse of the Geneva Conventions. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the coalition has also allowed some Iraqi prisoners to be filmed while surrendering, and he urged both sides to stop exploiting prisoners in that way.

The Geneva Conventions, established in 1949, lay out rules to protect soldiers, prisoners, and civilians in war zones. It has been signed by 190 countries, including the United States, Britain, and Iraq.

International Red Cross legal counsel Philip Spoerri admits the rules of the Geneva Conventions have been violated in just about every major military confrontation. Nevertheless, he says the rules are important because they are intended to help protect both sides, and the civilians often caught in-between.

"You will find many, many instances of breaching such rules, that is for sure," he said. "But at the same time there is also usually an interest between both sides [that] such rules be protected to ensure the full protection for your own soldiers and also when it comes to respect for certain symbols, because both sides will need these rules."

Coalition forces say they have noticed some Iraqi military and militiamen have abandoned their uniforms and are waging battle in civilian clothes. Mr. Spoerri says while doing so does not violate Geneva Convention rules, soldiers out of uniform could lose certain rights intended to protect official prisoners of war.