- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

GENEVA — All Iraqi prisoners of war and interned civilians should be released when sovereignty is transferred to a new Iraqi government according to rules governing warfare, a spokeswoman for the International Red Cross said yesterday.

“If we consider that the occupation ends June 30, that would mean it’s the end of the international armed conflict,” Nada Doumani of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said from Baghdad.

According to article 118 of the third Geneva Convention, prisoners of war should be repatriated without delay at the end of hostilities. Article 133 of the fourth convention says interned civilians also should be released when a conflict ends.

The ICRC’s position sets up a potential conflict with U.S. military officials, who said yesterday they plan to keep thousands of Iraqi detainees in custody and to continue operating the Abu Ghraib prison after June 30.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said in Baghdad that as many as 1,400 detainees will be released or transferred to Iraqi authorities by the end of this month, but that the United States will continue to hold between 4,000 and 5,000 prisoners who are deemed a threat to the coalition.

Besides Abu Ghraib, U.S. officials also plan to continue using Camp Bucca, a detention facility near Umm Qasr in the far south of the country and other short-term detention facilities, he said.

Iraqi President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer yesterday turned down President Bush’s offer to tear down the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where U.S. military abused Iraqi detainees, telling ABC’s “This Week”: “We need every single dollar we have in order to rebuild our country instead of demolishing and rebuilding.”

Miss Doumani said it remains to be seen whether the occupation effectively ends with the turnover of sovereignty and stressed that “the situation on the ground determines the facts.”

“This is the legal situation: When the conflict ends, the prisoners of war should be released according to the Geneva Conventions,” she explained. “Therefore … all people detained in relation to the conflict should be released unless there are penal charges against them.”

Although Iraqis will run their own affairs after June 30, about 150,000 U.S. and other coalition troops will remain in the country to help improve security under a U.N. resolution approved unanimously by the U.N. Security Council last week.

After the turnover of sovereignty, detainees held by the Iraqi authorities will be subject to Iraqi law. But current prisoners who are not released because they face penal charges will remain under the protection of the Geneva Conventions, Miss Doumani said.

In an interview published Saturday in the daily Neue Zuercher Zeiting, Jakob Kellenberger, president of the ICRC, said it was not clear which authorities the Red Cross should deal with after the transfer of sovereignty.

The ICRC is empowered under the 1949 Geneva Conventions to visit prisoners of war and other detainees to make sure their care meets international standards.

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