Iraq 'trying to wipe out Marsh Arabs'

THE MARSH Arabs of southern Iraq are being bombarded and attacked by the Iraqi military which is attempting to 'wipe out' three specified tribes, according to a human rights report to the United Nations Security Council.

The report, by Max van der Stoel, a former Dutch minister of foreign affairs, supports United States claims that civilians living in villages in the marshes have been bombarded with artillery and by air force planes since the beginning of July in violation of the mandatory UN Resolution 688. 'It is a matter of utmost urgency,' he told the Security Council, 'that concrete measures be taken in response to the current series of grave violations of human rights in southern Iraq.'

In a letter to Iraq's Foreign Minister dated 29 July, Mr van der Stoel says that two villages, Adil and al-Salam, were evacuated and burnt earlier this month, and that 'heavy artillery, fire bombs and even strafing have been reportedly used against the local population in recent weeks'. He also complains of 'widespread deaths, arrests and disappearances resulting from attacks on 10 villages, which he names, warning that the government is violating international humanitarian law.

However, the Council will be reluctant to get involved in human rights monitoring in southern Iraq because of the anticipated objections of China and India, among others, anxious not to create a precedent for their own countries. That could change if the fate of the Marsh Arabs, who are Shia Muslims, becomes an issue in the increasingly tense relations between the US and its allies and Iraq for non-compliance with the Gulf war ceasefire resolutions.

Anticipating resistance to his plan, Mr van der Stoel says that human rights monitoring has already been established in El Salvador and Cambodia by the UN. Resolution 688, which cleared the way for the allies to establish safe havens for the Kurds, 'commented on the obvious link between human rights in Iraq and the interest of maintaining peace and security in the region'.

It is imperative, he says, that the UN should now assess human rights compliance, just as it assesses Iraq's compliance with the destruction of its nuclear, chemical and ballistic weapons of mass destruction.

Mr van der Stoel has asked the Security Council to consider sending 52 human rights monitors to southern Iraq, to investigate human rights abuses by the Iraqi government and to visit jails and court proceedings and intercede with local authorities in urgent cases.

The attacks have been concentrated on four villages, Adil, al- Salam, Maimona and al-Major where curfews were in place as the bombardments began. At the same time, the government has been forcibly relocating the Marsh Arabs, in an operation similar to the 'Anfal operations' waged against the Kurdish population in the late 1980s, the report says.

The government is also proceeding 'at a rapid pace' with an enormous water diversion programme, known as the Three River Project for irrigation, which is destroying the Marsh Arabs' environment.

Mr van der Stoel also referred to a video tape of the Iraqi Prime Minister instructing several Iraqi army generals to 'wipe out' three specified Marsh Arab tribes. The video has been widely broadcast outside Iraq and Mr van der Stoel says that the recent reports of military attacks on southern marsh villages are 'extremely disturbing and may be seen as a manifestation of a preconceived policy'.

Al-Thawra, the Baath party newspaper, has characterised the Marsh Arabs as inferior and 'un- Iraqi' people, Mr van der Stoel says, noting that 'these sinister and ominous references' were connected to 'the current wave of repression'. The most blatant violations of human rights are the military attacks against civilians, he says. Noting that previous small military operations have been explained by the need to track down military deserters or those who participated in the 1991 uprisings after the Gulf war, Mr van der Stoel says he 'cannot understand how indiscriminate bombardments of civilian settlements could possibly be justified by police actions directed against a small number of individuals'.

(Photograph omitted)