FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Killing Civilians in Iraq and Syria

The ongoing effort of the United States to eradicate the Islamic State by aggressively launching airstrikes against targets that include non-combatants is causing significant harm to civilians in Iraq and Syria.

Estimates of civilian deaths from airstrikes range from the hundreds to the tens of thousands. Although the U.S. government says that it has killed 603 civilians in airstrikes since the start of military operations in 2014, the monitoring group Airwars estimates that airstrikes have killed at least 4,500 civilians, including nearly 1,000 children.

Some of the strikes have been horrific. One attack in Mosul last March killed at least 100 civilians and injured countless more. “Dozens of Iraqi civilians, some of them still alive and calling out for help, were buried for days under the rubble of their homes in western Mosul after American-led airstrikes flattened almost an entire city block,” The New York Times reported.

Officials in Washington deny any wrongdoing. They insist that they are taking every precaution to protect civilians. They also argue that they are not intentionally killing civilians, despite the fact that President Trump promised during his presidential campaign to go after civilians. When it comes to terrorists, “you have to take out their families,” Trump said.

Others argue that civilian deaths cannot be avoided. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of coalition forces, said during a press conference last March that civilian deaths result from the fog of war. “And this is why it’s not a war crime to accidentally kill civilians,” Townsend said, in a misinterpretation of the law.

Still, U.S. officials know that they are responsible for killing civilians in Iraq and Syria. For over the past year, at least, they have been deliberately striking targets that they know will result in civilian casualties.

Clear evidence emerged in January 2016 after U.S. forces bombed a site in a civilian area of Mosul that the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) had been using to store money. “U.S. commanders had been willing to consider up to 50 civilian casualties from the airstrike due to the importance of the target,” CNN reported.

Around the same time, officials in the Obama administration loosened restrictions designed to limit civilian casualties. According to a report by USA Today, administration officials granted military officials permission to strike targets that came with higher probabilities of civilian deaths. “Before the change,” USA Today reported, “there were some limited cases in which civilian casualties were allowed.” With the change, “there are several targeting areas in which the probability of 10 civilian casualties are permitted.”

For others, U.S. military forces were still dealing with too many restrictions. Upon entering office, President Trump moved to implement a more aggressive military campaign. “We have not used the real abilities that we have,” Trump said. “We’ve been restrained.” Expanding the Obama administration’s program of exterminatory warfare, which by that point had already killed about 60,000 IS fighters, Trump decided to implement what administration officials call “annihilation tactics.” According to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Trump “directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS.”

The Trump administration’s tactical shift has had significant consequences for civilians. By surrounding targets to annihilate them, coalition forces have been killing far more civilians in Iraq and Syria. It “appears that the number of civilian casualties has risen in recent months,” The Los Angeles Times reported in April. The New York Times agreed, reporting in May that the “number of civilians killed in American-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria spiked this year.” Earlier this week, The Daily Beast provided additional confirmation, reporting that “all parties agree that casualty numbers are steeply up.”

Military officials recognize the consequences of their actions. “We’re not perfect,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, commented during a press briefing last May, when asked about civilian casualties from airstrikes. Commander Townsend has even suggested that civilian casualties are inevitable. Undoubtedly, “civilians will get caught in the crossfire,” Townsend said earlier this month. “Civilians will get hurt. Civilians will get killed.”

Still, U.S. officials continue to insist that they are not to blame. They characterize civilian deaths as accidents or mistakes. In other words, they keep shifting the blame elsewhere, just as Townsend did when he once again blamed the fog of war. The entire situation is “sad and it’s an unavoidable part of war,” he said.

But civilian casualties are not unavoidable. They are not mistakes. For the past year, civilian casualties have been a direct result of U.S. policy. By embracing policies that allow for civilian casualties, officials in both the Obama and Trump administrations have permitted U.S. forces to kill civilians. Indeed, U.S. officials are ensuring through their actions and policies that civilians in Iraq and Syria will continue to die.

This article originally appeared on Lobelog.com.

More articles by:

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Justin Anderson
Don’t Count the Left Out Just Yet
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail