- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 24 (UPI) — A top Iraqi official said U.S. soldiers captured during weekend clashes will be treated as prisoners of war, more U.S. soldiers and pilots were detained. The official also said landing attempts in northern and southern Iraq were foiled, while some 62 Iraqi civilians were killed and 470 others wounded in overnight coalition shelling.

"We are fully committed to the Geneva Convention and any infidel (coalition soldier) who is not killed in the battlefield will be a prisoner in line with the Geneva Convention," Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said during his news briefing in Baghdad, on Monday.

He refuted accusations by the U.S. that Iraq did not respect the Geneva Conventions when Iraqi TV broadcast a videotape showing five U.S. captured prisoners and the bodies of at least 8 others killed during a battle in al-Nassiriayh, in southern Iraq over the weekend.

Al-Sahhaf explained that what the videotape showed was "not an investigation" as "these were local journalists and reporters."

He said the reporters were simply asking the captured U.S. soldiers from which cities they originate. He denied the dead U.S. soldiers were tortured but rather "killed in the battlefield."

He denounced the U.S. officials as "war criminals shedding crocodile tears over the Geneva Convention" while U.S. and British forces were seen on television few days ago "directing their machineguns on Iraqi civilians" in Umm Qasr.

"Isn't this a violation of the Geneva Convention? This is a strong irony, tragic and ridiculous," he said, recalling how the "hands of those (U.S.) criminals were stained with the blood of Arab women in Afghanistan and the blood of the Vietnamese for ever and ever."

He also pointed out that "the villains in Washington and London" were supporting "the Jews who are murdering the Palestinians and the children of Palestine and "they talk about violating the Geneva Convention."

He said the U.S. and British forces should abide by the Geneva Convention as the Iraqis were doing and accused them of "killing Iraqi civilians… they say they are Iraqi soldier but we say they are not from the Army but civilians."

Al-Sahhaf said hundreds of thousands Iraqi militia members, fighters and tribesmen were not re-deploying "to cut the head of the boa" and started with shooting down two Apache helicopters. He also noted that there were a big number of Iraqi, Arab, Muslim and friendly volunteers who joined the battle against the invading forces and "we welcome them."

"Brave peasants have shot down two Apache helicopters. One was just shown on TV and may be and may be not we will broadcast the pictures of the seized pilots depending on the circumstances," he said. He also confirmed the capture of a coalition pilot whose plane was downed over Baghdad Sunday.

The Iraqi official affirmed that two attempts by the coalition forces to land troops in southern and northern Iraq have failed.

"They tried to drop mercenaries near Najaf and Karbala. They surrendered. They tried to do the same in the north and they failed to do that," he said. "The Iraqi tribes and militias are trying to stop the advance of those criminals."

Al-Sahhaf said the coalition forces targeted Monday night Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf, Basra, al-Kaddisiya and many other civilian quarters with heavy bombardment that resulted in the killing of 62 civilians and injuring 470 others. The highest casualty rate was reported in Basra where 14 people were killed and 122 others wounded and in Baghdad with 194 injured.

He said by stupidly shelling the Iraqi civilians and "increasing their war crimes," the coalition forces were only making the Iraqis stronger and determined to defend their country.

"Their (U.S.-British) campaign is a real war crime," he said. "They believe that controlling Iraq is just a picnic but they are being faced with a big confrontation and they are trying to hide the truth. There are many lies in the enemy camp and treachery is big but to a large extent naive."

He said the coalition forces have apparently institutions "to fabricate lies" and "to cover their crime and stupidity of invading Iraq."

He added that Sunday was "a black day" for the U.S. and British forces but promised that they will face many more black days.

On Turkey, Al-Sahhaf said regardless of who rules the Turkish people, their interest is with Iraq and the

Arab nation "and who ever violates this, he will be working against the interests of his country."

He refused to comment on Jordan's expulsion of Iraqi diplomats on Sunday.

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