BAGHDAD -- A top human rights group yesterday accused the US military of committing war crimes by demolishing homes of suspected insurgents and arresting the relatives of Iraqi fugitives.
The military denied the charges by Human Rights Watch, saying it only destroyed homes that were being used to store weapons or as fighting positions, adding that all Iraqis detained were suspected of taking part in attacks on coalition forces.
"Assertions that the coalition is intentionally attacking homes as a matter of collective punishment are false," said Colonel William Darley, a military spokesman.
The New York-based human rights group said US soldiers demolished at least four Iraqi homes for no apparent military reason other than to punish the families of guerrilla suspects.
"Troops are entitled to suppress armed attacks, but they can only destroy a civilian structure when it is being used in an attack," Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "These demolitions did not meet the test of military necessity."
The group also accused the US military of kidnapping in two cases in which American soldiers arrested civilians who happened to be related to guerrilla suspects.
In one case, the Army detained the wife and daughter of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former top lieutenant of Saddam Hussein and now the most wanted man in Iraq. The two women remain in US custody more than six weeks after they were arrested without charge.
Darley declined to discuss Douri's wife and daughter, saying there were "special circumstances" surrounding their case. In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Human Rights Watch called for a halt to such tactics and asked him to ensure US forces abide by the 1949 Geneva Conventions, holding soldiers accountable for ordering, condoning, or carrying out serious violations of the laws of war.