Thursday, March 27, 2003

Rules of War: Terrorist tactics

Iraq's repeated violations of the rules of war confirm the terrorist nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. They should put allied forces on extreme alert for all forms of treachery.

Reports of war crimes mount almost daily. Iraqi forces have used their own civilians as human shields, faked surrender under a white flag to ambush U.S. Marines, used hospitals to stage attacks, stashed fighter jets and tanks in cemeteries or historic sites, attacked in civilian clothes and from civilian vehicles, stationed fighters in residential neighborhoods, put prisoners of war on display and perhaps even executed POWs.

Such treachery isn't just "survival tactics." This brutal, unscrupulous regime puts its own noncombatants in greater peril from both sides. The Geneva Conventions, signed by almost all nations including Iraq, are designed to spare civilians from deliberate acts of war. It should be clear to all nations that Saddam's regime not only uses the allies' commitment to the Geneva code against them but also routinely uses its own populace as shields - either to deter air strikes or invite civilian casualties.

Iraqi tactics already go beyond guerrilla warfare. They are often indistinguishable from terrorist attacks. If there were any lingering doubts, the regime has now proved itself a prime practitioner of the post-9/11 terrorist black arts.

Some Iraqi deceits pack violations within violations. Not only did Iraqi paramilitaries fire at Marines from an An Nasiriyah hospital, but after securing it the Marines found 3,000 chemical suits with masks, military uniforms, ammunition and even a T-55 tank. Chemical weapons are banned. Fleeing Iraqis at other sites shed chemical suits and masks. It's not U.S. chemicals Iraqi troops worry about. Saddam also bought U.S and British uniforms to outfit his fighters - another treacherous violation.

The allied commitment to the Geneva Conventions meshes with broader limits we have adopted to spare civilian targets, even at greater risk to allied troops. But Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld has warned if the regime insists on doing this the hard way, the United States will increase its firepower.

This conflict is all about holding Iraq to the "rules." Iraqi violations only add to the justification.

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