It is wrong to blame ordinary Iraqis, wherever they live, for the surge in violence by groups opposed to the government and the United States. As U.S. troops pursue their new border offensive [Operation Steel Curtain] for a seventh consecutive day, reports from the battlefield say that innocent Iraqis are again bearing the brunt.

If the U.S., the mightiest military power the world has ever known, cannot stop the infiltration of Iraq by foreign fighters, it is certainly beyond the power of hapless Iraqis living in border villages to do so. If these fighters and their supporters can so fiercely resist the massive and disproportionate firepower of the United States, no one on earth should expect Iraqi women and children to take up arms and flush them out.

In the absence of independent reporting, it is hard to assess the damage and casualties in areas covered by this major offensive. American military officials only speak of the damage they inflict on insurgents and broadly deny Iraqi reports of civilian casualties. But Iraqi medics and Red Crescent officials, available on the ground, dispute U.S. claims and speak of scores of civilians killed and thousands of families fleeing these areas.

Killing and displacing civilians for the purposes of exposing rebels who are able to resist U.S. military power is tantamount to a crime against humanity. Iraqi civilians should not be punished because of the failure of U.S. troops to crush the resistance. ├░There is no justification for the atrocities suffered by Iraqi civilians at the hands of U.S. and Iraqi troops during these operations.

Not every man in these areas is a rebel or an insurgent, and even if he is found to be connected to the insurgency, his wife, children and parents should not suffer as a result. But unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening, fuelling more anger and fury against the occupiers and their supporters.