by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
BAGHDAD, Iraq — After a one-day break, Iraqi forces resumed their operations against the Islamic State (“ISIS”) on Sunday, March 26th. The Iraqi army’s efforts were briefly put on hold following suspicions of a U.S.-led coalition airstrike killing dozens of civilians in Mosul on March 17th.
Local residents and witnesses stated that the bodies of over 200 civilians had been recovered from the rubble of a collapsed building in the area hit by the airstrike. Photographers at the attack site reported seeing twelve bodies, including those of women and children, being placed in blue plastic body bags. Hundreds more civilians are still believed to be trapped. An AlJazeera reporter, Ms. Hoda Abdel-Hamid, stated that she interviewed a man who had been trapped under rubble for several days before being rescued, and had lost twenty-two relatives in an airstrike.
According to Ms. Abdel-Hamid, local residents indicate that the “main problem” is the agility with which ISIS fighters move around. She stated that the fighters “go in and out of houses, on top of rooftops . . . and then disappear.” By the time an airstrike is called in, “the ISI[S] fighters have disappeared.”
U.S. defense officials confirmed that a coalition airstrike struck a target in Mosul on March 17th. U.S. Central Command (“CENTCOM”) officials indicated that the aircraft had acted at the request of Iraq. This is a stark contrast to the statement issued by Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi, who characterized the conditions as a “humanitarian catastrophe” by blaming U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and “excessive force” used by federal police forces. Mr. al-Nujaifi subsequently called for an emergency parliament session to initiate an investigation into the attack. The spokesman for the Joint Operations Command further indicated that the Iraqi Defense Ministry opened an investigation into the attack.
While CENTCOM officials stated that coalition airstrikes are carried out in compliance with the Laws of Armed Conflict, March could produce the highest number of civilian deaths attributed to U.S. airstrikes since the beginning of the war. Estimates for the amount of civilians killed by the end of the month is currently set at 1,000. The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq indicated that the organization is “stunned by this terrible loss of life[.]”
A senior public information officer in Iraq with the U.N.’s refugee agency, Ms. Caroline Gluck, indicated that country conditions are “deteriorating daily.” Ms. Gluck noted that the fighting takes place closer to civilian homes in a “densely-packed area,” which results in families being “terrified by the mortars, the shelling and the airstrikes[.]” She stated that most families rely on one meal per day, which typically consists solely of water and flour. She further added that people are “desperate” due to the lack of fuel and heating. The U.N. estimates that over 600,000 people are still trapped in the city of Mosul.
For more information, please see: