Over 1/4 of civilian deaths in Mosul fighting caused by airstrikes – UN

Over 1/4 of civilian deaths in Mosul fighting caused by airstrikes – UN
More than one in four civilian casualties during the fighting in Islamic State-occupied Mosul were caused by the US-led coalition’s airstrikes, a UN report has found. The international community should investigate and pay compensation, it said.

At least 2,521 civilians were killed and 1,673 wounded as the US-led coalition spearheaded the operation to recapture Mosul, which rocked Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) so-called “capital” and its surroundings for over nine months. These figures should be considered as an “absolute minimum,” a new report on the “liberation,” issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) on Thursday stated.

At least 741 of the victims were executed by Islamic State terrorists, while the deaths caused directly by fighting amounted to 1,780 civilians. While the report mainly focuses on IS atrocities, it states that more than one-fourth of the civilian deaths – 461 – were caused by the airstrikes during the operation. The US-led coalition confirmed their involvement in the deaths of 295 civilians during the Mosul operation and the remaining ones “could not be attributed,” according to the report.

The international community should “thoroughly investigate all incidents which allegedly caused civilian casualties and in which the international community was involved, making the results of the investigations public,” the report advises. The UN bodies, however did not specify a mechanism to investigate the reported airstrikes or suggest an international body to do so.

Apart from the need for an investigation, UNAMI/OHCHR urged the international community to pay compensation to relatives of those who perished or were injured during the confirmed airstrikes. The US-led coalition, however, was not named directly as the one responsible for the proposed payments.

“Compensation should be provided to relatives of civilians killed and to civilians wounded in airstrikes in which civilian casualties were proven, such as that in al-Jadida neighborhood of western Mosul on 17 March,” the report stated, referring to the notorious coalition airstrike which resulted in at least 105 dead civilians.

According to UNAMI/OHCHR, 162 bodies were recovered from the location of the airstrike. They could not determine, however, if the casualties were inflicted by the March 17 airstrike or other airstrikes near the location on the same and following days. Due to its extremely large scale, the incident was a subject of a special investigation by the US-led coalition which published its findings late in May.

The coalition has already shifted the blame for deaths and destruction on IS, stating that the casualties were caused by “secondary explosions” of terrorist munitions stored at the location. It was revealed, however, that the coalition planes targeted two IS snipers, who were firing at the Iraqi troops from the roof of the building, where the civilians stayed.

The revelations about the “two snipers” considered by the coalition to be enough of a target to call in a full-fledged airstrike prompted the accusations of the excessive force usage. The coalition’s policy, however, was defended by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who put it boldly that the “annihilation” of IS was the priority, while the civilian casualties under such circumstances were a “fact of life.”

In July, a report issued by Amnesty International scolded the US-led coalition for imprecise and disproportionate airstrikes, citing the March 17 incident as an example of such behavior. The reported violations of international law by the US-led coalition jets and Iraqi forces that used “imprecise, explosive weapons, killing thousands of civilians…may constitute [a] war crime,” according to Amnesty.

The new UN report, however, abstained from such harsh wording. It called upon the Iraqi government to accede under the Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and amend its laws to effectively prosecute “international crimes” committed by IS fighters. It noted, however, that if any other party also committed such crimes it also should not escape justice.