US Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of
Civilians in Mosul
By Nicolas J. S. Davies
revealed on April 19th that U.S. air forces have
been operating under looser rules of engagement in
Iraq and Syria since last fall. The war commander,
Lt Gen McFarland, now orders air strikes that are
expected to kill up to 10 civilians without
prior approval from U.S. Central Command, and U.S.
officials acknowledge that air strikes are killing
more civilians under the new rules.
officials previously claimed that air strikes in
Iraq and Syria had killed as few as 26 civilians.
A senior Pentagon official who is briefed daily on
the air war told USA Today that
was unrealistic, since air strikes that
have destroyed 6,000 buildings with
over 40,000 bombs and missiles have inevitably
killed much higher numbers of civilians.
As the U.S.
escalates its air strikes on Mosul, the largest
city occupied by Islamic State, reports of hundreds
of civilians killed by air strikes reveal some of
the human costs of the U.S. air war and the new
rules of engagement.
Award-winning Iraqi environmental scientist and
Mosul native Souad
Al-Azzawi (Ph.D. Colorado School of Mines)
has compiled a partial list of air strikes that have
killed civilians and destroyed civilian
infrastructure from reports by
Nineveh Reporters Network,
Al Maalomah News Network, other Iraqi media and
contacts in Mosul:
– Many government buildings have been
destroyed. As U.S. officials told USA Today,
attacks are often conducted at night to minimize
civilian casualties, but they have killed
security guards and civilians in neighboring
exchanges have been systematically bombed
– Two large dairies were bombed, killing
about 100 civilians and wounding 200 more.
– Multiple daytime
air strikes on Mosul University on March
19th and 20th killed 92 civilians and wounded
135, mostly faculty, staff, families and
students. Targets included the main
administration building, classroom buildings, a
women’s dormitory and a faculty apartment
– 50 civilians were killed and 100
wounded by air strikes on 2 apartment buildings,
Al Hadbaa and Al Khadraa.
– A mother and 4 children were killed in
an air strike on a house in the Hay al Dhubat
district of East Mosul on April 20th, next door
to a house used by Islamic State that was
– 22 civilians were killed in air strikes
on houses in front of Mosul Medical
– 20 civilians were killed and 70 wounded
by air strikes on the Sunni Waqif building and
nearby houses and shops.
– U.S. air strikes on April 24th damaged
the Rashidiya water treatment plant in West
Mosul and the Yarmouk power station in East
Central Bank of Mosul in Ghazi Street and
several branches of Rafidain and Rasheed banks
were bombed, with heavy civilian casualties,
despite all cash reportedly being removed after the
first bank was struck.
– Three workers were killed and 12
wounded in an air strike on the
former Pepsi bottling plant.
– An air strike on a fuel depot in an
industrial area ignited an inferno with 150
casualties on April 18th.
– Bombs have damaged a food warehouse,
power stations and sub-stations in West Mosul,
and flour mills, a pharmaceutical factory, auto
repair shops and other workshops across Mosul.
Al Hurairah Bridge was destroyed by air
At the very
least, U.S. air strikes have killed hundreds of
civilians in Mosul and destroyed much of the
civilian infrastructure that people depend on for
their lives in already dire conditions. And yet by
all accounts, this is only the beginning of the
U.S.-Iraqi campaign to retake Mosul. One and
one-half million civilians are trapped in the city,
30 times the UN’s estimate of the number of
civilians in Fallujah before the November 2004
killed 4,000 to 6,000 people, mostly civilians.
Meanwhile ISIL prevents civilians from evacuating
the city, believing that their presence protects its
forces from even heavier bombardment.
International humanitarian law strictly prohibits
military attacks on civilians, civilian areas and
civilian infrastructure. The presence of several
thousand ISIL militants in a city of 1.5 million
people does not justify indiscriminate bombing or
attacks on civilian targets. As the United Nations
Assistance Mission in Iraq warned U.S. officials in
Rights Report in 2007, “The presence of
individual combatants among a great number of
civilians does not alter the civilian nature of an
area.” UNICEF protestedthe
bombing of a water treatment plant in Syria last
December as “a particularly alarming example” of how
“the rules of war, including those meant to protect
vital civilian infrastructure, continue to be broken
on a daily basis.”
The fundamental contradiction of the militarized
“war on terror” has always been that U.S. aggression
and other war crimes only reinforce the narratives
of jihadis who see themselves as a bulwark against
foreign aggression and neocolonialism in the Muslim
world. Meanwhile U.S. wars and covert
operations against secular enemies like Hussein,
Gaddafi and Assad create new zones of chaos where jihadis can thrive.
Obama has acknowledged publicly that there is
“no military solution” to jihadism. But
successive U.S. administrations have proven unable
to resist the lure of military escalation at each
new stage of this crisis, unleashing wars that have
killed about two million people, plunged a dozen
countries into chaos and exploded Wahhabi jihadism
from its original safe havens in Saudi Arabia,
Afghanistan and Pakistan to countries across the
If the U.S.
and its Iraqi allies follow through with their
threatened assault on Mosul, the resulting
massacre will join Fallujah, Guantanamo and U.S.
drone wars as a powerful catalyst for the
next mutation of Wahhabi jihadism, which is likely
to be more globalized and unified.
although Al Qaeda and Islamic State have proven
adept at manipulating U.S. leaders
into ever-escalating cycles of violence, the jihadis cannot
directly order American pilots to bomb civilians.
Only our leaders can do that, making them morally
and legally responsible for these crimes,
just as Islamic State’s leaders are responsible for
J.S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the
American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also
wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the
44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s
First Term as a Progressive Leader.