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Coalition must do more to secure order in Iraq

Iraqi civilians have had to take the law into their own hands to prevent looting

(Keystone)

The Swiss president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, has called on the occupying forces in Iraq to work harder to get the country running again.

His comments came after a two-day visit to Baghdad earlier this week.

"My visit sharpened my sense of the necessity to do everything to improve security," said Kellenberger. "It's very important to create an environment so that people can go back to work."

During his trip, Kellenberger met Jay Garner, the retired United States general who is now in charge of rebuilding Iraq, along with the British head of the civilian administration, Tim Cross.

He also held brief talks with Europe's top aid official, Poul Nielson.

Kellenberger said the purpose of those discussions was to outline the ICRC's position and priorities in terms of humanitarian work and the need to ensure the protection of Iraq's civilian population.

He suggested that more personnel, trained police officers and solid administrative structures would help improve the situation.

Garner and Cross were unable to provide Kellenberger with any concrete assurances, although the ICRC chief said he was confident that they had taken note of his concerns.

He also said they had acknowledged the ICRC's efforts in Iraq, as the only humanitarian organisation to remain active in the country throughout the war.

"My impression is that the coalition forces are aware that improving security is a top priority," said Kellenberger. "The US and the UK have also said they are ready to apply the Geneva Conventions."

Geneva Conventions

Under the Geneva Conventions, which outline the rules of war, the occupying forces have an obligation to ensure that public services are working and that people's basic needs are met.

During his talks with Garner and Cross, Kellenberger reiterated the ICRC's position that it considers Iraq to be an occupied country and that as such, the US-led coalition must live up to its responsibilities.

The US has so far been reluctant to accept that it is legally the occupying power, although American officials insist they're doing everything they can to restore order and services in Iraq.

The Geneva Conventions also empower the ICRC to visit and monitor the well being of prisoners of war (PoWs) and civilian detainees.

In total, the ICRC has visited some 7,000 detainees, around half of which have since been released.

But the neutral agency has not yet been granted access to high-level Iraqi officials, who are being held at undisclosed locations by the coalition forces.

"I have taken up the point with Jay Garner and we have made it clear to the coalition forces what their obligations are," said Kellenberger. "We want access to all detainees and we will continue to ask for this."

Emotional impact

Besides meeting top officials, Kellenberger also toured Baghdad's Al Rashad psychiatric hospital and one of the city's water treatment plants.

Before the war, Al Rashad housed around 1,300 patients, but the majority have fled, leaving just 300 people in the hospital.

Kellenberger said his visit to the site, which was hit hard by looting, had made a powerful impact on him.

"What was not stolen was destroyed... and the effects of the looting went far beyond what I had imagined," he said.

He added that it was important to provide the civilian population with a solid sense of security, in light of the ongoing looting and the lack of essential services in Iraq.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the occupying powers in Iraq must do more to restore order and ensure security in the country.

The president of the Geneva-based organisation, Jakob Kellenberger, visited Baghdad this week, where he met top American and British officials.

Basic services such as water and electricity are still lacking in many parts of Iraq, as well as access to health services and medicine.

As the custodian of the Geneva Conventions, which outline the rules of war, the Swiss-led ICRC is responsible for protecting victims of warfare and making sure military forces know their obligations during times of conflict and occupation.

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