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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 December 2007, 18:49 GMT
Red Cross visits Iraqi prisoners
By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad
The Red Cross hopes to visit prisoners across Iraq
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has carried out its first visits to detainees held by Iraq.

The ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger, said Red Cross delegates had visited prisoners held near Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdish north of Iraq in October.

The organisation made the announcement during the launch of its financial appeal for 2008.

It is asking for almost $900m (444m) - a record amount. Iraq will be its biggest humanitarian operation.

The ICRC is based in Geneva and is mandated under the Geneva conventions to visit detainees in conflicts.

It is already visiting around 20,000 detainees held by US forces in Iraq, but it has been trying for over a year to gain access to an estimated 35,000 prisoners held in Iraqi-run jails.

Mr Kellenberger said Red Cross delegates had now managed to visit some detainees. But, he added, a comprehensive agreement with the Iraqi authorities to visit all detainees was still being negotiated.

Difficult conditions

The announcement came as the ICRC launched its largest ever appeal for funds to carry out humanitarian operations around the world.

Its largest operation will be in Iraq, where the budget is almost $100m.

The focus will be on medical needs, and the growing numbers of internally displaced.

Red Cross officials say working in Iraq remains extremely difficult and dangerous, but that the plan to invest so heavily in humanitarian aid in the country is a sign that the organisation's reputation for independence and neutrality is still respected.

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