World View: Iraq Halts Mosul Operation After U.S. Coalition Airstrikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians

The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • US confirms that US coalition airstrikes on Mosul killed hundreds of civilians on March 17
  • Iraq halts the Mosul operation under international pressure

US confirms that US coalition airstrikes on Mosul killed hundreds of civilians on March 17

A boy rides his bike past destroyed cars and houses in a neighborhood recently liberated by Iraqi security forces on the western side of Mosul on March 19, 2017. (AP)
A boy rides his bike past destroyed cars and houses in a neighborhood recently liberated by Iraqi security forces on the western side of Mosul on March 19, 2017. (AP)

The US Central Command confirmed on Saturday that multiple airstrikes on March 17 had killed dozens of civilians, while other reports claim that the number killed was as high as 200. The airstrikes were launched at targets belonging to the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) in western Mosul in Iraq. The United Nations expressed profound concern, saying it was “stunned by this terrible loss of life.”

The military operation to free Mosul from ISIS is now in its sixth month. The operation has recaptured the entire eastern side of Mosul, east of the Tigris River, and about half of the western side. Iraq’s Shia army are leading the operation on the ground, backed by coalition airstrikes.

Stories have been surfacing in the last few days of the civilian death from the airstrikes. The US military investigated, revealing that the coalition had struck fighters and equipment in an area in western Mosul that matched the reports of civilian casualties. Saturday’s announcement said:

At the request of the Iraqi Security Forces, the Coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in West Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties. …

The Coalition respects human life, which is why we are assisting our Iraqi partner forces in their effort to liberate their lands from ISIS brutality.

Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS’ inhuman tactics terrorizing civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighborhoods.

The announcement did not identify which country’s aircraft conducted the airstrikes. Warplanes from Australia, France, Belgium, Britain and the United States have all been heavily engaged in the Mosul operation.

According to reports from residents, ISIS is using civilians as human shields. The tactic is to gather dozens of civilians into a building, and then take up positions on the roofs, firing at Iraqi soldiers. When the Iraqi forces request a coalition airstrike targeting the ISIS fighters, the civilians in the building are vulnerable.

In the case of the March 17 strike, some reports indicate that the airstrike hit explosions that had been laid in the house by ISIS, and the explosion collapsed the entire building, trapping or killing the civilians inside.

The assault on ISIS in western Mosul is only just beginning, with the worst yet to come. The urban warfare is extremely intense. According to one Iraqi commando:

The fighting is at much closer quarters. It was street-by-street — now it’s house-by-house. We are often literally in the same house, on the roof, and [ISIS] is downstairs. Sometimes we drop grenades. If there are civilians, families in the homes, we shout to them to take cover inside a room.

There are still some 600,000 civilians believed to remain in ISIS-held areas. These civilians are essentially trapped. If they remain, then they may be killed by an airstrike or in the crossfire in the fighting between the Iraqis and ISIS. ISIS is refusing to allow them to leave, and any civilians that try to leave can be shot on sight by ISIS. (Australia) and Reuters

Iraq halts the Mosul operation under international pressure

The civilian death toll in the Mosul operation is being described by as “a humanitarian catastrophe,” and pressure is growing to change tactics.

Lise Grande, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq issued the usual kind of laughable statement that’s always coming out of the United Nations:

We are stunned by this terrible loss of life and wish to express our deepest condolences to the many families who have reportedly been impacted by this tragedy.

Nothing in this conflict is more important than protecting civilians. International humanitarian law is clear. Parties to the conflict – all parties – are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians.

This means that combatants cannot use people as human shields and cannot imperil lives through indiscriminate use of firepower.

We can imagine ISIS leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi saying, “Oh no! I didn’t know using human shields violated international humanitarian law. We’ll stop doing it immediately!”

However, pressure is also growing from Iraqi politicians and international activists. The result is that Iraq has ordered the Mosul operation to be halted immediately, until the situation can be reassessed. According to an Iraqi Federal Police spokesman on Saturday:

The recent high death toll among civilians inside the Old City [of Mosul] forced us to halt operations to review our plans. It’s a time for weighing new offensive plans and tactics. No combat operations are to go on.

We need to make sure that taking out [ISIS] from the Old City will not cost unwanted high casualties among civilians. We need surgical accurate operations to target terrorists without causing collateral damage among residents.

President Donald Trump in January issued an executive order demanding a new plan to defeat ISIS from his military. The new plan arrived on his desk in February but has not been detailed in public. Some activists are suggesting that a change in the rules of engagement under President Trump is leading to an increase in civilian casualties. Independent (London) and Rudaw (Kurdistan)

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Iraq, Mosul, US Central Command, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Australia, France, Belgium, Britain Lise Grande, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
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