Iraq: protection of civilians is paramount

Heavy fighting between Iraqi government forces and armed militia in Basra
and other Iraqi cities is creating a grave risk to civilians, Amnesty
International said today, as it urged all parties to refrain from
indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks and to respect civilian life.

"Civilians have borne the heaviest brunt during the past five years of
conflict in Iraq," said Amnesty International. “This new upsurge of
fighting is certain to add to that terrible toll."

Fighting erupted on Tuesday 25 March in Basra between Iraqi forces and
members of the Mahdi Army, followers of Shi'a Muslim cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr. According to press reports, at least 12 people were killed in the
city. It is not known at this stage if civilians were among them. As
fighting spread, curfews were imposed by the Iraqi authorities in Basra
and other southern cities, including al-Nassirya, Kut, al-Hilla and
Samawa.

The Mahdi Army declared a cease fire at the end of August 2007 and
announced at the end of February 2008 that it was being renewed for a
further six months. It has been vying with other Shi’a militia groups for
political control of Basra and there have been frequent armed clashes
between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization, armed wing of the
Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. The latest fighting appears to have broken
out in response to an attempt by Iraqi security forces to clamp down on
the armed militias.

Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi government to ensure that
its security forces comply with Iraq’s obligations under international
human rights and humanitarian law, and in particular to ensure that the
civilian population and civilian objects are protected at all time.

Amnesty International is also calling on armed groups in Basra and other
cities to comply with the rules of international law and to respect
civilian life.

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