A U.S. military offensive in Falluja
last week in which 600 Iraqis may have died has raised concerns
about excessive use of force and needs immediate investigation,
a leading human rights group said Tuesday.
Civilians who fled the fighting described the streets of
Falluja as being littered with bodies, including women and
children, and Iraqi politicians have accused U.S. forces of
meting out collective punishment on the city's residents.
A young Iraqi girl lies in a hospital after being injured after clashes in Falluja, April 10, 2004. The U.S. military offensive in Falluja last week in which 600 Iraqis may have died has raised concerns about excessive use of force and needs immediate investigation, a leading human rights group said April 13. (Reuters TV)
"The questions being asked are very legitimate. When you
cordon off a town and hear many stories that are very worrisome
about civilians being killed it needs to be examined," said
Hania Mufti, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, a New
York-based rights group.
"There is enough from the footage we've seen and from what
has been said about what went on in Falluja to warrant a very
serious investigation. We are deeply concerned about the
consistent reports we are getting about women, children and
unarmed civilians being killed," Mufti told Reuters.
She stressed that most of the information received so far
was anecdotal and said no conclusions could be drawn until a
full investigation could be conducted.
"I can't say whether any crimes have been committed ... but
we'll certainly be looking into whether there was excessive use
of force and whether the methods used by the military were
acceptable," she said. "We would call on the U.S. military to
be as cooperative as possible with our investigation."
U.S. Marines launched an offensive against Falluja, a city
of about 300,000 people 30 miles west of Baghdad, eight days
ago to crack down on guerrillas and find those responsible for
killing and burning four U.S. security guards March 31.
The fighting was some of the fiercest Iraq has seen since
U.S.-led forces launched the war that overthrew Saddam Hussein
a year ago. For the past three days, Falluja has been under a
The director of Falluja's general hospital has said more
than 600 Iraqis were killed and some 1,200 were wounded in the
battle. U.S. forces also suffered a heavy toll, with at least
70 soldiers killed in the past 12 days, many in Falluja.
The U.S. military has rejected allegations that its
soldiers fired indiscriminately or used excessive force.
"I could see many bodies in the streets. Hundreds were
lying in the street. Relatives were too scared to get them,"
said Samir Rabee, who escaped with relatives and eight other
families in the back of a refrigeration truck.
Mufti said it would probably be another few days before
investigators could travel to the city, and then only if the
U.S. offensive had not resumed.
© Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd