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 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 15:23 GMT
US cautions Iraq on 'human shields'
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers
Myers says human shields will not prevent an attack
The United States has warned Iraq that using "human shields" in case of attack will be considered a war crime.

It is illegal to use non-combatants as a means of shielding potential targets

General Richard Myers
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, referred to reports that Iraq will receive volunteers from Arab and western countries to serve as human shields at sensitive sites.

The general called this the deliberate recruitment of innocent civilians in order to put them in harm's way should a conflict occur.

The warning comes as one anti-war campaigner - former US Marine Kenneth Nichols O'Keefe - says he is planning to take thousands of people to Baghdad to serve as human shields.

The bandwagon is already formed

Kenneth Nichols O'Keefe

Mr Nichols, who fought in the 1991 Gulf War, told the BBC he hoped to recruit volunteers across Europe.

"In the UK and the US, there's little appetite for war but the authorities don't expect many people to go to such extremes to stop it," he says.

"That would be true if there was only 20 to 50 of us, but if there's 500 or more, it becomes easier and easier to recruit people. The bandwagon is already formed."

Precedents

But the resort to human shield was strongly condemned by General Myers.

"It is illegal under the International Law of Armed Conflict to use non-combatants as a means of shielding potential targets," he told reporters are the Pentagon.

Stuart Lockwood and Saddam Hussein
1991: Five-year-old 'human shield' Stuart Lockwood

General Myers also said that doing so would not be a guarantee that a target would not be bombed.

He insisted the US military would try to avoid civilian casualties - but that in some cases US forces may not know where non-combatants were located.

During the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was accused of detaining Iraqi and Kuwaiti civilians at key military and industrial sites in Iraq.

In 1997, hundreds of Iraqi families moved into one of the presidential palaces in Baghdad, to act as human shields in case of an American attack.

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  The BBC's Nick Childs
"The diplomacy is taking on an air of increasing urgency"

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