Last month Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory against Islamic State (IS) in Mosul. But there was little to celebrate for the city’s residents.
The assault by the Iraqi army and a Western coalition including Australia and the US dragged on for nine months, devastating the city and its inhabitants.
Bombing by the US-led coalition has killed hundreds of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more. The coalition dropped almost 5000 bombs in June alone.
Airwars, which tracks civilian casualties, says that deaths in Iraq and Syria have massively spiked since Trump came to office, averaging 12 civilian deaths a day—that’s 2200 since January, almost as many as during the eight years of the Obama administration.
An Amnesty International report estimates that Iraqi and coalition forces killed as many as 5800 civilians in west Mosul between February and June.
Hoshyar Zebari, a former government minister told The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn that, “Kurdish intelligence believes that over 40,000 civilians have been killed as a result of massive firepower used against them, especially by the federal police, air strikes and Isis itself.”
Amnesty accuses the Iraqi military and its coalition allies of violating international law.
US Air Force Brigadier General Andrew Croft claimed, “we use the most precise and discriminate weapons we can ever use and are available in the world to avoid targeting civilians.” But Amnesty’s report reveals that the Iraqi army repeatedly fired untargeted rockets into civilian areas, leading to massive loss of life.
“Starting in January 2017,” the reports says, “pro-government forces carried out a series of unlawful attacks in west Mosul, relying heavily on explosive weapons with wide area effects such as IRAMs (Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions). With their crude targeting abilities, these weapons wreaked havoc in densely-populated west Mosul and took the lives of thousands of civilians.”
The coalition dropped leaflets instructing Mosul residents to place children’s clothes on their roofs to mark civilian homes. But these homes were bombed anyway. Amnesty also accused IS of transferring civilians into areas of heavy fighting and using them as human shields.
After the coalition “liberated” Mosul, Iraqi forces proceeded to torture and execute suspected IS fighters.
Human Rights Watch has received information about execution sites, including one in western Mosul where 17 corpses were discovered in pools of blood. Video emerged of Iraqi soldiers throwing captured fighters off cliffs, then shooting them.
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This kind of brutality and sectarian violence were precisely what led to the emergence of IS in the first place.
IS was born out of the chaos produced by the US-led invasion of Iraq and the occupiers’ efforts to stoke sectarianism. It then grew during the civil war in Syria.
Belkis Wille from Human Rights Watch describes how Shia-dominated Iraqi forces, “have carried out campaigns of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killings. These have all been key push factors for young Sunni Arab men to join Isis.”
Reports tell of Shia flags flying in Mosul, a statement that the city, a Sunni majority area, is now under Shia military occupation.
Even the commander of US military operations against IS told the BBC, “If we’re to keep… ISIS 2.0 from emerging, the Iraqi government is going to have to do something pretty significantly different.”
Guerrilla resistance by IS in Iraq will continue. And the Iraqi army’s elite unit, the American-trained Counter Terrorism Service, has lost 40 per cent of its troops.
Now the focus is on the battle for Raqqa, IS’s de-facto capital in northern Syria. It is already the target of hundreds of US-led coalition bombs every day.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are closing in. But their backbone are fighters from the Kurdish militia the YPG.
The Kurds have a long-held aim of establishing a self-governing territory in the Kurdish areas of northern Syria.
In the 1970s, Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, evicted tens of thousands of Kurds in Raqqa province in order to resettle Arabs. During a government offensive in December 2015 Kurdish fighters seized Arab towns. In Raqqa, a mainly Arab area, there is fear of further Kurdish incursions.
Skirmishes between Arab and Kurdish militias have already broken out, and there is a risk of a free-for-all once the ousting of IS creates a power vacuum.
The US-led coalition’s cries of triumph are hollow. They are only fuelling the bitterness and alienation that allowed IS’s growth in the first place. Intervention by foreign powers can only make things worse.
The bombing must stop so ordinary people in Iraq and Syria have the chance to regroup and struggle for their own liberation—just as millions across the Arab world showed they could in 2011.
By Lachlan Marshall