Tens more civilians were killed in western Mosul in late March, as security strikes hit ISIS locations. Sources say that civilians died in the air and artillery bombardment in the Rajm al-Hadid district, an area where violent encounters between US-backed Iraqi troops and ISIS militants have been increasing. However, the deaths in these airstrikes, along with hundreds of other civilian casualties in February and March, were not included in the official tally of civilian casualties reported recently.
This past Saturday, the United States-led coalition published a report saying that at least 229 civilians have been killed by coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria since Operation Inherent Resolve began in 2014. As stated above, this number does not include the hundreds killed over the past month. The United Nations reported that between February 17th and March 22nd, at least 307 civilians were killed and 273 were wounded in western Mosul. The tally could go up if an investigation into these deaths finds that the operation was responsible for these deaths. Approximately 43 reports of possible civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria are still under investigation by the coalition. The coalition, along with some military officials have commented that a new ISIS tactic of forcing groups of civilians into buildings is one of the main reasons for the recent increase in civilian casualties and danger to civilians. ISIS militants have witnessed the herding of civilians into buildings as they are using them as human shields and killing them if they try to escape.
The coalition also noted that more than 18,600 artillery strikes and airstrikes took place in Iraq and Syria between August 2014 and February 2017. The United States’ military is reportedly conducting a formal review of the strikes. The task force said in a statement that, “We regret the unintentional loss of civilian lives resulting from coalition efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria and express our deepest sympathies to the families and others affected by these strikes.”
Several human rights organizations and individuals have called out the US military and the coalition forces. Rules set in the Geneva Conventions require warring states to respect the principles of proportionality, precaution, and distinguishing between civilians and combatants. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Iraqi and coalition forces to conduct transparent and thorough investigations into the incidents. Furthermore, Amnesty International has called on the US military to change its rules of engagement. Senior Crisis Response Advisor, Donatella Rovera, commented, “[ISIS] shamefully resorts to using civilians as human shields, a serious violation of the laws of war that amounts to a war crime. In a densely populated residential area, the risks for the civilian population become enormous. However, [ISIS’s] use of human shields does not absolve Iraqi and coalition forces from their obligation not to launch disproportionate attacks.”