The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross says Iraqi authorities and coalition forces have not provided information on prisoners of war.
Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger called for all parties to the conflict in Iraq to respect the Geneva Conventions governing the rules of war. The Geneva Conventions set up in 1949 empower the Red Cross to visit prisoners of war and monitor their treatment.
"One of the important tasks we have to carry out is to see to the faithful application of the provisions of international humanitarian law," he said. "And to the extent we can do that, we will do the utmost that will be the case."
Another Red Cross official says a dialogue has been started on the issue, and the commander of coalition forces, General Tommy Franks, says the coalition will comply.
"I do feel very strongly, very firmly, that accordance with Geneva that we need to move forward as quickly as we can in order to get the Red Cross involved in these situations," said General Franks. "I will assure you this, we will do our part and we will take care of the prisoners we hold."
There was no immediate word on an Iraqi response to the Red Cross demand for access to prisoners of war. During the the last Gulf war, Iraq waited six weeks to allow the Red Cross access to its American prisoners, and used them as human shields in the meantime.
This time, Iraq has shown American prisoners on television, something Red Cross President Kellenberger indicated violates Article 13 of the third Geneva Convention, which prohibits the public display of prisoners of war. "The essential thing is to make clear to everybody that one should not expose these prisoners of war to public curiosity in whichever form," he said.
The Geneva Conventions also state that prisoners of war are to be held in a safe place, given medical care, treated humanely, and their basic needs are to be provided.
U.S. officials have confirmed that 12 soldiers are missing after Iraqi forces attacked an army supply convoy. The U.S. military reports it holds about 3,000 Iraqi prisoners of war.
Mr. Kellenberger added that the Red Cross has re-established water supply for about 40 percent of the population of the southern Iraq town of Basra. But the Red Cross says the water quality is not very good. The organization is still working on the problem.
Earlier, there were news reports that Basra had no water or electricity. In addition, Red Cross workers are helping care for injured people in Iraqi hospitals.