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New U.S. guidelines take tougher stance toward Iraqi civilians

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq—Iraqi civilians who "interfere with mission accomplishment" can be detained up to 30 days under new guidelines the U.S. military issued Tuesday.

The guidelines represent tougher military attitudes toward Iraqi civilians in the face of continuing attacks by irregular Iraqi loyalist forces. The original rules of engagement issued for Iraq drew a careful line between military targets and civilians, who were to be protected.

Civilians still can be held only temporarily, generally "mere days," the new guidelines say. "As a general rule, detention in excess of thirty days should be considered beyond the scope of `temporary detention,'" they say.

Detainees must receive the same protections as enemy prisoners of war, according to the guidelines, such as medical treatment, food and shelter, and a ban on the use of torture.

They suggest the use of mobile checkpoints and give tips for spotting soldiers who have shed their uniforms, or members of President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and Fedayeen militias in civilian clothes.

"It is likely that at least one member of any small group will be scared of being caught or has been forced into service by Baath officials or Fedayeen," the guidelines say.

They allow the establishment of a temporary holding facility in Camp Liberty, combat headquarters for the Marines, who have borne the brunt of the ambushes and sniping attacks by pro-Saddam loyalists in southern Iraq.

Some 300 civilians already have been rounded up in the region, suspected of being members of pro-government militias or soldiers who shed their uniforms for civilian clothes.

U.S. military lawyers are preparing special hearings under the Geneva Conventions to determine whether they are enemy prisoners of war or "unlawful combatants" like the al-Qaida suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.