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Iraq flouting laws of war, Geneva Conventions

WASHINGTON -- The Iraqi regime is flouting the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions, said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke at the news conference today.

Clarke said that the deceptions have been so blatant "that some liken it to terrorism."

"They are sending forces out carrying white surrender flags or dressing them as liberated civilians to draw coalition forces into ambushes," Clarke said. "Both of these actions are among the most serious violations of the laws of war."

These actions - called "perfidy or treachery" by law - are strictly prohibited because of the effect they have on attacking troops. Those troops would be loath to accept surrenders from troops who engage in such acts.

Secondly, disguising soldiers as civilians mean that occupying troops cannot protect civilians. "Such acts involve the enemy willfully violating the laws of war, while simultaneously taking advantage of the coalitions' compliance to the laws of war," Clarke said.

She again addressed Iraqi treatment of coalition prisoners of war. "As we said yesterday, it is a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions to humiliate and abuse prisoners of war or to harm them in any way," she said.

She reiterated President Bush's vow that those who harm prisoners will be found and punished as war criminals. She said the Iraqi regime must allow the International Red Cross to see the POWs.

Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, expressed his sympathy to the families of those taken prisoner and assured them that "we will press on and do everything we can to bring them home safely."

Still, the behavior of the Iraqi regime has in no way stopped the coalition, he said, and control of Iraq continues to slip away from the Saddam Hussein's regime as coalition forces close in on Baghdad.

McChrystal said coalition bombing is aimed at the regime of Saddam Hussein and at specific targets in and around Baghdad. These include the government control center, the offices of the Special Security Organizations, the headquarters of the Special Republican Guards and the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

Still, mistakes happen. "Early this morning a coalition aircraft was dropping ordnance on a bridge 100 miles from the Syrian border," McChrystal said. "After the bombs were released, a bus came into the pilot's view, but too late to recall the weapons.

"The bombs struck the bridge and the bus. Unintended casualties like this are regrettable. We extend our sympathies to the families of those civilians who were accidentally killed."

The operations expert said land forces are more than 200 miles into Iraqi territory. "Coalition forces have engaged Republican Guard Medina Division troops with attack helicopters," McChrystal said. No direct-fire engagements have occurred yet.

Coalition air forces flew more than 1,000 sorties on March 23, according to McChrystal. Besides focusing on key regime leadership targets, he noted air strikes continue to suppress ballistic missile threats, to degrade Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units, to support special operations forces and to strike targets of opportunity as they arise.

Coalition aircraft have dropped more than 2,000 precision- guided munitions since the beginning of the operation.

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