Arab and non-aligned nations demanded an end to the US-led war against Iraq and called on the UN Security Council to break its silence and find a way to return to peaceful methods for disarming Saddam Hussein.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened on Wednesday's council meeting by expressing regret that efforts to avert war had failed. He said the warring parties must now ensure the protection of civilians, those injured in the conflict, and prisoners of war, as well the safe distribution of vital humanitarian aid.
"The inability of the council to agree earlier on a collective course of action places an even greater burden on you today," he said at the start of the five-hour session at which other UN members were allowed to express their opinions.
"We all want to see this war brought to an end as soon as possible," he said. "But while it continues it is essential that everything be done to protect the civilian population, as well as the wounded and the prisoners of war on both sides, and to bring relief to the victims."
The 22-member Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, which represents about 115 mainly developing countries, had asked for Wednesday's meeting to denounce the military action. But they did not introduce a resolution demanding a halt to the fighting and withdrawal of all foreign forces, apparently out of concern that it would not pass. Both the United States and Britain would be likely to veto it.
"This war should not have been started in the first place, therefore it should end immediately," said Malaysia's UN Ambassador Rastam Mohamed Isa, whose country chairs the Non-Aligned Movement. "Let us return to the Security Council to find a solution to this complex issue."
He spoke during the first open council meeting to let any of the non-council members express their views on the military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein, which began last week. The meeting was to continue on Thursday as nearly 80 nations had signed up to speak.
"The council has remained silent until today," Isa said. "And while the council remains silent, stark images of this 21st century war are seen all around the world continuously." The United Nations "should offer some hope to those of us in the international community who remain committed to multilateralism and the central role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security," he added.
In an interview Wednesday with al-Jazeera, the Arab TV service based in Qatar, Powell rejected any move Arab nations might make for a UN. cease-fire resolution.
"We will watch it carefully, but right now our policy is to continue to prosecute this conflict until we can bring it to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible and then get about the task of rebuilding Iraq," Powell said.
Wednesday's meeting was called at the urging of an Arab foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo, Egypt. Kuwait didn't object, but was unhappy that the foreign ministers did not condemn Iraq for firing 12 missiles into civilian areas of Kuwait. Most of the missiles exceeded the 150-kilometer limit allowed under UN resolutions.
Iraq's UN Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri denounced the military strikes he said had hit civilian targets including homes, schools and mosques and led to "thousands of casualties, among whom are women, children and the elderly."
"This colonial Anglo-Saxon aggression is a naked defiance of the will of the international community and its organizations," al-Douri said. "The United Nations and this Security Council in particular are called upon to condemn this invasion and aggression. They're called upon to work to put an end to it immediately without conditions."
There is no accurate number of Iraqi casualties, although in expressing concern about civilians, Annan cited reports from Baghdad that missiles struck a heavily populated area, killing 14 people and injuring 30. It was the worst reported instance of civilian deaths since the war began a week ago.
The United States, Britain and its coalition partners launched military strikes against Iraq last week after abandoning a Security Council resolution seeking an ultimatum for Saddam and UN authorization for a war against Iraq because of strong council opposition led by France, Russia, Germany and China. Those countries favored Iraq's peaceful disarmament through strengthened UN. inspections.