War Crimes: Barrel Bombs in Syria and Iraq

by

UN Security Council Resolution 2139 of February 22, 2014, ordered all parties to the conflict in Syria to end the discriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas. In spite of that, both the Syrian and the Iraqi governments continue using them against civilians. Human rights groups have characterized them as weapons of terror and illegal under international conventions.

Barrel bombs are a type of improvised explosive device (IED) sometimes described as “flying IED” typically made from a barrel that has been filled with high explosives, shrapnel, oil and chemicals and then dropped from a plane or a helicopter. They are cheap to produce, so they are used extensively in ongoing conflicts such as Syria and Iraq. Because different explosives can fit into them, and due to their poor accuracy and indiscriminate use in civilian areas they provoke devastating effects and loss of lives.

The earlier use of these bombs was in South Sudan in the 1990s, where they were expelled from transport planes. Since then, they are now being extensively used by the Syrian Air Force and by the Iraqi government forces, as happened during the Anbar clashes (2013-2014.)

“What is happening now in Iraq definitely started in Syria. If I were al-Maliki, and seeing Assad next door using the same tactics without a slap on the wrist and gaining ground as a result, it stands to reason he would say, “Why the hell not?’” said Erin Evers of Human Rights Watch.

Residents of Tikrit, Baiji and Mosul report also that government forces dropped barrel bombs on their cities during the 2014 Northern Iraq offensive, as they also did later in July in Fallujah and the nearby town of Al-Karmath.

Barrel bombs use in Syria was first identified in August 2012. Although a Russian military expert initially denied its existence, an October 2012 video clearly showed a barrel bomb being lit and dropped by Syrian Air Force personnel. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 barrel bombs have been used and that more than 20,000 people have been killed by them since the conflict in Syria began in March 2011.

Aleppo has been the focal point for the use of barrel bombs by the Syrian government. According to evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch, Syrian government forces have increased the use of barrel bombs since the UN Security Council passed the resolution banning their use last February.

Since that resolution was passed until July 14, 2014, Human Rights Watch identified over 650 new major strikes in Aleppo neighborhoods held by groups opposing the government. According to statistics from the Violations Documentation Center, aerial bomb attacks killed 1,655 civilians in the Aleppo governorate between February 22 and July 22, 2014.

Area bombing or carpet bombing, where conventional shells are used to bombard a large are from the air – a practice widely used during Second World War- was banned by the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 are still considered the cornerstone of contemporary humanitarian law.

Additional Protocol I relates to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts. According to this Protocol, it is not lawful to treat a whole city as a target simply because it contained a number of separate military targets within it. These kinds of actions also violate the principles established in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court regarding the protection of civilians in combat zones.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been extremely critical of the use of weapons that increasingly kill innocent civilians and continue to fuel the conflict. “Further escalation of violence will only serve the agenda of those who see military means as the only way forward, at the expense of the Syrian people, who have suffered enough already,” he said referring to the war in Syria.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire