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Saturday 23 March 2019

'Up to 11,000 civilians died' in battle with Islamic State for Mosul

Iraqi civilians fleeing the fighting in Mosul in July (AP)
Iraqi civilians fleeing the fighting in Mosul in July (AP)

Between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians died in the final battle to drive Islamic State extremists out of the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to an Associated Press investigation.

The civilian casualty rate is nearly 10 times higher than what has been previously reported.

The deaths are not acknowledged by the coalition, the Iraqi government or the Islamic State group's self-styled caliphate.

Iraqi or coalition forces were responsible for at least 3,200 civilian deaths between October 2016 and the fall of IS in July this year.

The AP investigation cross-referenced morgue lists and multiple databases from non-governmental organisations. Most of the victims are simply described as "crushed" in health ministry reports.

The coalition, which has not sent anyone into Mosul to investigate, acknowledges responsibility for only 326 deaths.

"It was the biggest assault on a city in a couple of generations, all told. And thousands died," said Chris Woods, head of Airwars, an independent organisation that documents air and artillery strikes in Iraq and Syria and shared its database with AP.

"Understanding how those civilians died, and obviously Isis played a big part in that as well, could help save a lot of lives the next time something like this has to happen. And the disinterest in any sort of investigation is very disheartening," Mr Woods said.

In addition to the Airwars database, AP analysed information from Amnesty International, Iraq Body Count and a United Nations report. AP also obtained a list of 9,606 names of people killed during the operation from Mosul's morgue. Hundreds of dead civilians are believed to still be buried in the rubble.

Of the deaths the AP found, around a third died in bombardments by the US-led coalition or Iraqi forces. Another third were killed in IS's final frenzy of violence, and it could not be determined which side was responsible for the deaths of the remainder.

But the morgue total would be many times higher than official tolls.

Iraqi prime minister Haidar al-Abadi told the AP that 1,260 civilians were killed in the fighting. The US-led coalition has not offered an overall figure. The coalition relies on drone footage, video from cameras mounted on weapons systems and pilot observations for investigations.

The Americans say they do not have the resources to send a team into Mosul. Because of what the coalition considers insufficient information, the majority of civilian casualty allegations are deemed "not credible" before an investigation ever begins.

The coalition has defended its operational choices, saying it was Islamic State that put civilians in danger as it clung to power.

What is clear from the tallies is that as coalition and Iraqi government forces increased their pace, civilians were dying in ever higher numbers at the hands of their liberators.

Mosul was home to more than a million civilians before the fight to retake it from IS.

Fearing a massive humanitarian crisis, the Iraqi government dropped leaflets or had soldiers tell families to stay put as the final battle loomed in late 2016. As the battle crossed the Tigris River to the west last winter, IS fighters took thousands of civilians with them in their retreat. They packed hundreds of families into schools and government buildings.

They expected the tactic would dissuade air strikes and artillery. They were wrong.

When Iraqi forces became bogged down in late December, the Pentagon adjusted the rules regarding the use of air power, allowing air strikes to be called in by more ground commanders with less chain-of-command oversight.


Press Association

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