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Red Cross Visits Iraqi POWs - 2003-04-03


The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, has gained access to some of the 2,000 Iraqi prisoners of war the U.S. military says it is holding in southern Iraq. The ICRC is still waiting for the same access to coalition POWs being held by Baghdad.

ICRC spokesman Muin Kassis says Red Cross teams this week have been registering Iraqi POWs being held in camps near the southern port of Umm Qasr.

"On the first day there was a team of 15 ICRC delegates, including one doctor and six interpreters," he explained. "They were able to have individual interviews with the first group of prisoners of war, and the visits will continue for as long as needed in the next few days."

The teams also monitor conditions of detention as outlined by Geneva Convention rules on the treatment of POWs. Mr. Kassis says the Red Cross teams will also facilitate contact between the prisoners and their families.

At least five U.S. soldiers captured during an ambush on their convoy in the early days of the war were shown on Iraqi TV. But Red Cross teams so far have not been able to meet with them. At least nine other U.S. soldiers are listed as missing.

Mr. Kassis says he is encouraged by positive statements from the Baghdad government about access.

"We have constant contacts with the Iraqi authorities. And we feel, especially after the very heartening statements made by various Iraqi officials, that they will abide by the third Geneva Convention and we do hope that we will have similar access to visit the coalition forces prisoners of war held by the Iraqi forces very soon," he said.

Iraqi members of the ICRC were able to get spare parts into the southern Iraq city of Basra to repair the main water treatment facility and ease a crisis there. But Mr. Kassis says water shortages are being reported in areas farther north, too.

"It seems there are increasing disruptions of water, not only in Basra, but in Baghdad itself," he said. "There are increasing electricity cuts, and we remain concerned about the general humanitarian condition of the population. "

Mr. Kassis also voices concern about the growing number of civilian casualties filling Iraqi hospitals.

The ICRC spokesman says detailed information about conditions inside Iraq has been sporadic in recent days because of disrupted telephone communications.