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Rights Group: Many Iraqi Civilian Deaths Preventable - 2003-12-12


The international human rights monitoring group, Human Rights Watch, says more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians were needlessly killed by coalition cluster bombs and inaccurate air strikes since the U.S.-led forces attacked Iraq early this year in March.

Human Rights Watch says the U.S.-led coalition took great steps to prevent killing Iraqi civilians when attacking pre-selected targets, such as government buildings.

But in its 147-page report, the New York-based monitoring group charges that attacks on so-called emerging targets caused hundreds of civilian deaths that could have been prevented.

Co-author of the report, Bonnie Docherty, spent five weeks in Iraq on a research trip that ended last June. She says cluster bombs, which spread munitions in areas up to a kilometer in radius, should not be used in populated areas.

"Because they can not target individual soldiers or civilians, they tend to kill civilians when they are used in populated areas," she said. "The second major problem is a large number of these sub-munitions do not explode on impact as designed. As a result they become de facto land mines that linger in an area and can kill civilians long after the conflict is over."

Ms. Docherty says the U.S.-led coalition must also address the inaccuracy of targeted attacks on former Iraqi leaders, which Human Rights Watch calls "decapitation attacks." While such attacks are legitimate under international law, the researchers found that the strikes were imprecise because the U.S.-led forces relied on inaccurate intercepts of satellite telephone calls and flawed intelligence.

The report says that no Iraqi leader was removed in 50 such strikes, but nearly 100 civilians were killed.

In response, a Pentagon official, who had not yet read the report, said that targeted attacks potentially shorten conflicts if they take out key leaders or commanders. He said the United States regrets unintended civilian casualties, and said cluster munitions, which are legal, are more accurate than so-called "dumb bombs."

The official said the number of civilian casualties in Iraq was lower than expected, despite the Iraqi regime's deliberate positioning of civilians in harms way.

Bonnie Docherty says Human Rights Watch also criticized violations by the anti-coalition Iraqi fighters. "These include the use of civilians as shields to protect their movement, the abuse of the Red Crescent emblem, for example, Iraqi forces driving to battle in ambulances, locating military objectives in protective buildings like mosques and hospitals and failing to take protections to protect civilians, which is required under international law," she said.

The Human Rights Watch report is also critical of coalition air strikes on electrical and media facilities and the failure to secure weapons and ammunition abandoned by Iraqi forces.

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