On September 27th, 2018, the United States-led coalition against ISIS admitted to killing 1,114 civilians in Iraq and Syria alone. In the four-year period between August 2014 and August 2018, the coalition had conducted more than 30,000 strikes and had reportedly investigated all ‘credible’ civilian casualty reports. However, critics claim that the death toll is much higher and that the United States and their allies have failed to accept responsibility for the destruction this war has brought upon the people of Iraq. Chris Woods is the director of Airwars, a United Kingdom-based independent monitoring organization, and he has estimated that the death toll is actually over 6,500.
Whilst Mr. Woods acknowledges that “we have seen significant improvements in how the coalition monitors battlefield casualties which we hope will be standard practice in future conflicts”, it is difficult to understand the disparity between the estimated and accepted civilian death toll. According to the coalition, only eight of the 58 civilian casualty reports produced in August 2018 were deemed ‘credible’ and only 53 deaths were recorded for the month. It is incomprehensible to Mr. Woods that countries like France and England “continue to claim low or no casualties from their own actions, an absurdity given the lethal nature of modern urban warfare.” Donatella Rovera, from Amnesty International, spoke to the media about the biased collection of data. “They go to Iraq, Syria, Raqqa and go around to talk to their partners. They do not talk to survivors and witnesses,” Ms. Rovera said of the lack of active investigation.
Without thorough investigations of civilian impacts, the coalition can continue to justify their actions and remove the burden from their conscience. It is highly unlikely that in over four years of armed conflict where entire cities are decimated in just days, only 1,114 civilians were killed in conflict. The poor justification for the appropriateness of actions that resulted in at least 1,114 civilian deaths demonstrates the lack of duty perceived by the coalition for the protection of people. In a statement produced in late September, the coalition attempted to justify the civilian death toll. “In each of eight incidents [deemed credible from the August 2018 reports], the investigation assessed that although all feasible precautions were taken and the decision to strike complied with the law of armed conflict, unintended civilian casualties regrettably occurred,” the statement read. But how can these attacks comply with international humanitarian law if they clearly violate the Geneva Protocols?
Geneva Protocol IV protects civilians from armed conflict and ensures their safety in warzones. Ms. Rovera countered the coalition’s rationalization, saying that not enough is being done. In an interview with The Independent, Ms. Rovera stated that refusing to accept responsibility stops governments from assessing their mistakes, “they never assess what went wrong. Was it negligence, human error, bad intelligence? Unless they come clean, lessons will not be learned.” Not only does the coalition not accept responsibility for civilian casualties, but they also fail to acknowledge their involvement in war crimes.
As the war moves from intense conflict to a maintenance position, the coalition should accept responsibility for a greater death toll and attempt to restore peaceful connections between the militaries and local people. The coalition is now in a position to be a driving force behind a peace-keeping campaign and assist in the rebuilding of the nations destroyed by this war. By publicly holding their militaries accountable for the atrocities committed in Iraq and Syria, the coalition can provide closure for affected families and hope for the future in a region left wondering when the war will end.
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