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In Iraq, a battle for the moral high ground

Among the most explosive weapons fired by both sides are war-crimes allegations.

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From Baghdad come angry accusations that US and British planes are deliberately killing civilians by targeting their bombs at marketplaces, homes, and food warehouses.

From the front lines come reports of Iraqis in civilian clothes opening fire after waving white flags, of hospitals used as arms depots, of Iraqi forces shooting from behind human shields, and a suicide bomber in a taxi who killed four American soldiers.

As the bitter war over territory continues in Iraq, one of the most explosive weapons both sides are deploying in the battle for international support is the allegation of enemy war crimes.

"The American government has decided to make an issue of these things to seize the moral high ground, and I think they are onto something," says Roy Gutman, author of the book "Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know."

But human rights groups are warning that the United States-led armies in Iraq should also pay more regard to international humanitarian law.

"There are reports giving rise to concerns that war crimes may have been committed by both sides in the recent fighting," Amnesty International said last week.

Observers caution that until the allegations have been investigated, they are hard to judge.

"There is a worrying tendency to rush to judgment and use events for the propaganda purposes before the facts are clear," says Adam Roberts, a professor of international law at Oxford University in England. "I have never known a war with so much spin and smoke and mirrors."

American TV audiences have been shocked by pictures of dead soldiers and of captured service men and women giving their names and home towns. That is a violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions governing the conduct of war, which protect prisoners of war from being exposed to "public curiosity."

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