GENEVA – The head of the International Red Cross (search) on Wednesday demanded that the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq grant access to captured members of Saddam Hussein's former regime.
Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said individuals on the list of the 55 most-wanted members of Saddam's (search) inner circle must be given the same rights under international law as any prisoner.
Twenty people from the U.S. list of senior Iraqi regime members are in custody. One other was reported killed.
There was no immediate response from Pentagon officials in Washington.
"Our insistence that we visit them doesn't protect them from prosecution," Kellenberger told reporters after returning from a two-day mission to Baghdad. The ICRC president said he raised the issue during a meeting Tuesday with retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner (search), who is heading the U.S.-led civilian administrative team in Iraq.
As guardian of the Geneva Conventions on warfare, the Swiss-led ICRC is responsible for protecting prisoners and making sure military forces know their obligations under international law during conflict and occupation.
Although the ICRC is best-known for its work with POWs -- it visited 7,000 Iraqis held by coalition forces -- the organization also deals with nonmilitary detainees. It visits prisoners to check on conditions of detention and arranges for them to send letters to their families.
Kellenberger refused say whether the ICRC specifically had asked to see any individual held by the coalition. Those in custody include Tariq Aziz, former deputy prime minister; Gen. Zuhayr Talib Abd al-Sattar al-Naqib, former head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence; and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, a top biological weapons scientist known as "Mrs. Anthrax" -- the only woman on the list.
"For us the basic approach is that we want to see everybody," said Kellenberger. "It's clear to us that all 55 are covered either because they are POWs or civilian internees."
Kellenberger said the ICRC had asked for -- but has yet to receive -- notification when any person on the list of most-wanted is taken into custody. "We need to be patient," he said.
He also urged the coalition to do more to restore order in Iraq.
The ICRC insists that Iraq is "occupied" under the definitions of international law. It said the coalition is the "occupying power" and has a duty to ensure that public services are working and people's basic needs are met.
The United States has been reluctant to accept that it is legally the occupying power, but insists it is doing everything it can to restore order and services in Iraq.
"Improving security remains an extremely important task," Kellenberger said. "It's not merely about establishing security but also creating the perception, of giving people a feeling of security."
Kellenberger said the organization also remains seriously concerned about the unexploded bombs and other munitions in Iraq, causing daily death and injury to civilians.
Garner "took note" of the ICRC position during their meeting Tuesday, Kellenberger said. "I have the impression he took the things I said seriously."