US Special Forces cruised through the streets of a town in
northern Iraq this week in heavily armored Humvees, loaded with
weapons - an about-face from their usually low-profile maneuvers.
The soldiers, dressed in heavy woolen caps and goggles obscuring
their faces, rode on platforms at the back of the vehicles. They
manned mounted guns and saluted to curious Kurds as they negotiated
the dusty roads.
But these troops were heading for a residential district, not the
This reporter witnessed the Humvees stopping outside a girls'
school - currently closed because of the war - heaving their
backpacks over a cement fence into the playground. On the roof of a
Christian church next door, US troops were setting up communications
The entrance to a nearby boys' school had been reinforced with
sandbags and armed Kurdish militiamen, pesh merga, were on guard
outside. A boys' school was also seen being occupied by US forces,
and local residents say three schools - all closed - now house US
The US military, for its part, says it has no information on this
particular operation. "But it certainly is our policy to not
establish military headquarters or other operations in protected
areas under the Geneva Convention," says Lt. Col. Gary Keck, a
spokesman for the Department of Defense in Washington.
An armed Kurdish militiamen working with the soldiers was
dispatched to order this correspondent to leave - even though the
activity was on a public street.
Alfred Rubin, a professor of international law at Tuft's Fletcher
School of Law and Diplomacy, says the US actions may violate The
Hague Convention, which compels combatants to take "...all necessary
steps to spare as far as possible buildings dedicated to religion,
art, science, charitable purposes, hospitals, and places where the
sick and wounded are collected."
"It's a pretty stupid thing to do," says Mr. Rubin. "It does make
the thing a target for enemy guerrillas and enemy operations."
This operation comes as coalition leaders accuse President Saddam
Hussein of violating the rules of war by hiding military personnel
and weapons in civilian facilities. US Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld has accused Mr. Hussein of using "schools, hospitals,
orphanages, and cultural treasures to shield military forces thereby
exposing helpless men, women and children to danger."
The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers has said,
"It is a violation of the law of armed conflict to use noncombatants
as a means of shielding potential military targets - even those
people who may volunteer for this purpose. …