FORMER United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark says American bombing of Iraq has caused many civilian casualties and widespread damage to civilian targets that ``can in no way be justified under the laws of armed conflict.'' Mr. Clark, who returned from a week-long tour of Iraq on Feb. 10, says he finds the estimate of 6,000 to 7,000 civilian deaths as of the first week of February ``quite credible, given what I saw.'' The figure was given to him by the head of Iraq's Red Cross affiliate, he said.
Clark, a peace activist with a longstanding interest in the Middle East, said in an interview that he saw ``more than a thousand homes, offices, apartment houses, and commercial buildings seriously damaged or destroyed.''
``None of these damaged civilian buildings ... showed any evidence whatever of use by the Iraqi military,'' he said.
Pentagon defends action
When asked to comment, Lt. Comdr. Edward Lundquist, a Pentagon spokesman, said: ``We have no specific reaction to what Mr. Clark says. We are targeting military targets in Iraq and Kuwait, and as we have said many times, we are going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties. But we have acknowledged that there will be collateral damage that will include civilian casualties, and that is very regrettable....''
Clark, who served as attorney general under President Johnson and now practices law in New York City, says his trip as far as Amman, Jordan, was paid for by the Coalition to Stop US Intervention in the Middle East. In Iraq, Iraqi officials acted as his hosts, Clark says, ``because that was the only way they would permit us to enter the country.''
Clark says US bombing is destroying Iraq and goes far beyond the UN mandate authorizing force to free Kuwait. He says the military is deliberately bombing nonmilitary targets. ``Most bombing is at night, of course, and a lot of it is from B-52s,'' he points out. ``They can hit a quarter mile or even a half mile off target.''
Clark described seeing damage in city after city to targets that he says ``were in no way military. What is military about the main bridge over the Tigris River in Baghdad that is used by thousands of civilians every day?'' he asks, adding that ``military supplies are not coming through Baghdad.''
Clark's view of Basra
Clark also says the Pentagon's characterization of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, as a garrison town in which military targets are closely interwoven with residential areas and civilian facilities is ``simply not true.
``You could say the same thing about, say, San Antonio,'' Clark muses in his Texas drawl. ``You can say it's a military town. But would that justify bombing parts of it that are absolutely and strictly civilian?''
Clark says he visited ``four or five residential neighborhoods in Basra alone that had suffered extensive damage. These were all well away from any military activity,'' according to Clark, who adds, ``I looked inside a lot of these bombed buildings, including schools, and there was no evidence at all of military gear or hardware ... nothing.''
Clark is calling for an immediate end to air strikes on civilian areas in Iraq.