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Mosul ‘collateral damage’

March 29, 2017

THE battle to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the clutches of the militant Islamic State group has been particularly grinding. The difficulty faced by the American/Iraqi coalition in retaking Mosul has been illustrated by the fact that while the campaign was launched last October, a considerable portion of the city still remains under IS control. In fact, the campaign has been marked by a slow advance by the Iraqi/US forces, street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. However, in recent days, disturbing reports have begun to emerge from Mosul concerning the deaths of civilians in coalition air strikes. The US has acknowledged recent air strikes in which around 100 civilians are said to have perished; Iraqi officials say the final death toll could cross 200. A similar pattern has been witnessed in Syria, where the US is also targeting IS, albeit without coordinating with the Syrian government. Around 50 people were killed in an American air strike earlier this month; while the US says it targeted a meeting of Al Qaeda militants, independent observers say a mosque full of civilians was hit.

War is indeed grim business and when confronted with enemies such as IS and Al Qaeda — who have no qualms about using non-combatants as shields — governments have a difficult task to not harm civilians while battling militants. However, such a large number of civilian deaths as ‘collateral damage’ is unacceptable. It appears that since Donald Trump moved into the White House, he has given his generals more latitude in carrying out strikes; one monitoring group says there has been a considerable rise in the number of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria in December, the last month of the Obama administration, and in March, under Trump’s command. Both the US and Iraq need to make more stringent efforts to protect civilians as they move to dislodge IS. Or else civilians will be caught between the murderous militants and governments that mow them down while trying to ‘liberate’ them.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2017