UN, Red Cross alarmed by civilian casualties in Iraq
Fri Apr 4,10:47 AM ET  Add Mideast -


GENEVA (AFP) - International aid agencies said they were alarmed by
the number of civilian casualties in the war in Iraq (news - web
sites) and their inability to reach many of the wounded.

AFP Photo

"At the moment in Iraq the biggest public health problem is the level
of civilian causalties, there is no question about that," Iain
Simpson, a spokesman for the World Health Organisation (WHO) told
journalists Friday.

"The reports from Baghdad, Karbala and Hilla are very worrying
indeed," he said, insisting that aid agencies needed access to Iraq
to help the wounded.

Simpson's comments were echoed by other agencies, including the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"What concerns us most in Iraq at the moment are the threats to
safety and health of civilians, the two things are closely linked,"
Antonella Notari, an ICRC spokeswoman said.

"With particular incidents or any observations on the way war is
waged, we continue to have talks with the warring parties, but
confidentially," Notari insisted.

Apart from providing aid, the ICRC also has an internationally-
recognised role as the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, which
protect civilians, wounded combatants and prisoners of war during
conflicts.

Notari said the ICRC's staff in Baghdad was now cut off from a
hospital at Hilla, south of Baghdad, where they had found 300
wounded.

The aid agencies were unable to give an estimate of the number of
people killed or wounded during the war.

They also voiced concern about the use of cluster bombs.

Notari underlined that the munitions -- clusters of small bomblets
used against troop concentrations and artillery -- were not outlawed.

But she warned that armies using them were responsible for clearing
any unexploded cluster bombs.

"I do notice that British forces confirmed the use of cluster bombs
outside of Basra," Notari said.

"In keeping with international humanitarian law we always appeal that
they be used well outside places where civilians live and work," she
added.

WHO said it had reports from northern Iraq of 35 injuries caused by
unexploded ordinance around the city of Sulaymaniya over the past two
weeks.
 

"Unexploded ordinance very often means the bomblets that come from
cluster bombs, these are a very serious problem already," Simpson
said.

On Tuesday, an AFP correspondent at Hilla saw what seemed to be the
parts of cluster bombs peppered over a large area.

Hospital officials and witnesses said 48 civilians had died in a
bombardment of the area by coalition forces.