The International Committee of the Red Cross is warning that Iraqi soldiers who disguise themselves as civilians risk prosecution. The Red Cross has called for both sides in the Iraq war to stop using tactics that endanger Iraqi civilians.
The Red Cross said the rules of warfare outlined by the Geneva Conventions are clear. In a conflict situation, there must be an unmistakable distinction between what is civilian and what is military.
While additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions recognize people's rights to resist and defend themselves, the Red Cross said there are rules that apply even in these cases, including one that says arms must be carried openly.
Red Cross spokesman Kim Gordon-Bates said soldiers who masquerade as civilians in order to deceive the enemy violate the conventions and risk prosecution. "Somebody who evades normal identification as a fighter is exposing themselves to being prosecuted, if ever they are arrested. What they are doing is denying themselves protection that fighters normally get. Then it becomes a crime, a violation, whatever that is up to a tribunal to decide. But they are doing something which is no longer a formal act of war performed by a formal, regular force," he said.
Mr. Gordon-Bates said recognized soldiers are protected under the Third Geneva Convention. This means they cannot be prosecuted for taking up arms against an enemy force. But this convention does not protect armed civilians. He said Iraq, the United States, and Britain are all parties to the Conventions.
Coalition troops have reported several instances where Iraqi soldiers have posed as civilians. Recently, an Iraqi soldier posing as a taxi driver detonated a car bomb that killed him and four U.S. soldiers at a U.S. military roadblock near Najaf.
Edgy about suicide attacks, U.S. troops shot dead an unarmed driver Tuesday. In an incident Monday, U.S. soldiers fired at a van that failed to stop at a checkpoint after warning shots were fired, killing seven women and children. Red Cross spokeswoman Antonella Notari said the Conventions apply here too.
"Checkpoints have, of course, the right to try to defend their own security and the security of their personnel so they may search vans, they may stop vehicles. There are certain rules on how you proceed in that. Of course, we hope that they took all the necessary measures to warn the people, to clearly alert them," she said.
The Red Cross said it will not play the role of arbitrator, but expects military authorities to adhere to the rules of war. They said chief among these is the protection of civilians from harm.