Amnesty International today called on Coalition forces and armed insurgents in Iraq to do everything possible to protect civilians caught up in escalating fighting in cities across the country.
"The loss of life in Iraq in recent days is tragic and unacceptable. The parties to the conflict must immediately take all necessary measures to protect civilians in Iraq as required by international humanitarian law," said Amnesty International.
"There must be independent and impartial investigations into serious violations, including any unlawful killing of civilians, and those responsible should be brought to justice in line with international law."
As the Occupying Powers, Coalition forces have primary responsibility for ensuring the safety and welfare of the Iraqi population. Armed groups must also respect fundamental principles of international humanitarian law.
In recent days, intensified fighting between Coalition forces and armed groups and individuals opposed to occupation has led to the deaths of dozens of civilians in cities including Baghdad, Falluja, Ramadi, 'Amara, Karbala, Kut, and Nassirya.
According to reports, at least 200 Iraqis and over 30 Coalition soldiers have been killed. Dozens of those killed appear to have been civilians.
Since 4 April there have been many clashes between Coalition forces and armed individuals belonging to the "Mahdi Army", followers of radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, in the predominantly Shi'a districts of Baghdad, as well as southern cities including 'Amara, Kut, Karbala, Nassirya, and Basra.
Yesterday the US military bombed a compound housing a mosque in Falluja from which they claim armed men were firing at US forces. Some reports say that about 40 Iraqis were killed although the US military claim there were no civilian casualties. Other reported incidents include the shooting and killing of eight demonstrators by Coalition forces in al-Huwayja yesterday, and the killing of 25 people in Falluja on Tuesday night when a house was hit by a missile fired by a US helicopter.
The clashes involving the "Mahdi Army" were prompted by the closure last week of the "al-Hawza al-Natiqa" newspaper, mouthpiece of Muqtada al-Sadr's group, and the arrest of one of his closest allies, Mustafa al-Ya'qubi, on charges relating to the April 2003 assassination in al-Najaf of well-known Shi'a cleric 'Abd al-Majid al-Khoie. The newspaper was closed down by order of Ambassador Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, on the grounds that it was inciting violence.
The US military has launched major operations in Ramadi and Falluja following the killing, burning and mutilation of four US private security guards by insurgents last week.