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Iraq: Targeting of Civilians by Insurgents Must Stop

Insurgents in Iraq are committing war crimes by targeting Iraqi civilians perceived to be cooperating with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Human Rights Watch said today.

Increasingly, armed opponents of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq are targeting Iraqi civilians whom they perceive as cooperating with the CPA. On November 20, the body of Sargoun Nanou Murado, a member of the municipal council of Basra, was found after he was reportedly abducted on November 18. On November 19, the education ministry's provincial director general was killed in the southern town of al-Diwaniyya.

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, absolutely prohibits the targeting of civilians. Civilians working for the occupying power are not legitimate targets of attack.

"All Iraqi civilians are protected by the Geneva Conventions," said Joe Stork, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division. "It doesn't matter whether they sympathize with the U.S. occupation, or with the insurgents."

Sargoun Murado represented Basra's small community of Assyrian Christians on the municipal council. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Basra's Shi`a Muslim religious leadership repeatedly stated its commitment to protecting the rights of the small but economically influential community.

These attacks targeting civilians continue a pattern of bombings and assassinations. Insurgents have warned that they will target anyone who works with the occupation authorities. In one of the more high profile assassinations, Aqila al-Hashimi, one of the three female members of the Iraq Governing Council, was shot by gunmen near her home in Baghdad on September 20, 2003, and died from her injuries five days later.

According to press reports, two prominent judges as well as two politicians connected with the occupation or with its Iraqi counterpart, the provisional council, were killed in early November. Judge Muhan Jabir al-Shuwaili, who was leading an investigation into abuses by Saddam's regime, was kidnapped in al-Najaf along with a prosecutor, and later murdered by assailants who told him just before he died, "Saddam has ordered your execution." The prosecutor was allowed to live to tell the tale.

In Mosul, Ismail Yusif, a provincial judge who was a deputy to the head of the provincial appeals courts was killed on November 1. In Baghdad, deputy mayor Faris `Abd al-Razzaq al-A`sam was also killed this month, as was a prominent member of a Baghdad neighborhood committee set up by the U.S. authorities.

Armed insurgents have also targeted hotels and government offices. These are presumptively civilian objects, most if not all of whose residents enjoy protection from armed attack.

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