Pentagon petty cash: $5mn for Iraqi civilians killed in anti-ISIS strikes could cover 2,000 people

© Reuters
The US Defense Department is to get $5 million that could be used to hand out 'condolence payments' to civilian Iraqis hit by American airstrikes. Officially the Pentagon doesn't admit that such casualties have occurred.

The money is allocated by the defense budget deal passed by the House last week and is part of the Commanders’ Emergency Response Program, or CERP.

It was first created for Iraq in 2004 and later expanded to Afghanistan. Since then, American commanders have received $6 billion in petty cash to spend on small projects meant to foster goodwill of the local populations.

Compensation for damage caused by US forces is also paid from the fund, the latest example being the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz that American warplanes bombed last month.

The defense bill passed on Thursday will authorize $10 million to be spent on CERP in Afghanistan next year. The same bill allows up to $5 million of that funding to be used for condolence payments in Iraq should US “combat operations” lead to “damage, personal injury, or death,” the Daily Beast reported. With an average of $2,500 remittance paid to civilian victims of US airstrikes, the money could cover up to 2,000 such condolence payments.


A congressional source told the news website that the US Central Command told the congressional defense committees that it “frankly wanted to reopen CERP in Iraq.” No CERP money has been allocated for Syria.

The US has conducted over 3,500 airstrikes in Iraq and 2,500 airstrikes in Syria as part of its campaign against the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). It has acknowledged that a set of airstrikes in Syria last November “likely resulted in non-combatant casualties,” but didn't confirm any civilian deaths to American strikes in Iraq so far. Several DoD investigations into the matter are underway.

According to an August assessment of the journalistic team Now Airwars, there are credible reports of at least 459 non-combatant deaths, including those of more than 100 children in 52 American airstrikes.

The bloodiest reported case was on June 3, when a factory suspected of being used to produce improvised explosives devices was hit in Hawija, Iraq. Local people told Al Jazeera and Reuters that over 70 civilians were killed.

The coalition command blamed IS for the alleged deaths, saying a warehouse of explosives on the ground rather than a “fairly small weapon” used by the coalition was the cause. It since launched an investigation into the civilian deaths, acknowledging that there was credible evidence of them. It took two weeks for the coalition to confirm that the attack was their doing.