• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

A Shameful Silence: Where is the Outrage Over the Slaughter of Civilians in Mosul?

The catastrophic number of civilian casualties in Mosul is receiving little attention internationally from politicians and journalists. This is in sharp contrast to the outrage expressed worldwide over the bombardment of east Aleppo by Syrian government and Russian forces at the end of 2016.

Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish leader and former Iraqi finance and foreign minister, told me in an interview last week: “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.”

The real number of dead who are buried under the mounds of rubble in west Mosul is unknown, but their numbers are likely to be in the tens of thousands, rather than the much lower estimates previously given.

People have difficulty understanding why the loss of life in Mosul was so huge. A good neutral explanation of this appears in a meticulous but horrifying report by Amnesty International (AI) called “At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul.

It does not give an exact figure for the number of dead, but otherwise it confirms many of the points made by Mr Zebari, notably the appalling damage inflicted by continuing artillery and rocket fire aimed over a five-month period at a confined area jam-packed with civilians who were unable to escape.

However, even this does not quite explain the mass slaughter that took place. Terrible civilian casualties have occurred in many sieges over the centuries, but in one important respect the siege of Mosul is different from the others. Isis, the cruellest and most violent movement in the world, was determined not to give up its human shields.

Even before the attack by Iraqi government forces, aided by the US-led coalition, started on 17 October last year, Isis was herding civilians back into the city and not allowing them to escape to safety. Survivors who made their way to camps for displaced people outside Mosul said they had to run the gauntlet of Isis snipers, booby traps and mines.

Determined to hang on to its hundreds of thousands of human shields, Isis packed them into a smaller and smaller space as pro-government forces advanced. Isis patrols said they would kill anybody who left their houses; they welded shut metal doors to keep them in, and hanged people who tried to escape from electricity pylons and left the bodies to rot.

“Consequently, as IS lost territory during the course of the battle, IS-controlled areas became increasingly crowded with civilians,” says the AI report. “Mosul residents routinely described to Amnesty International how they sheltered in homes with relatives or neighbours in groups of between 15-100.”

It was these groups that became the victims of the massed firepower of pro-government forces. In many streets, every house is destroyed and I could not even enter some badly damaged districts because access was blocked by smashed masonry, craters and burned out cars.

Outside Mosul, people tend to assume that most of this destruction was the result of airstrikes – and much of it was – but Mr Zebari is correct in saying that it was shell and rocket fire from pro-government ground forces, particularly by the Federal Police, that caused the greatest destruction and loss of civilian life.

How this happened is easily explained by a look at the types of ordnance used by pro-government forces: these include 122 mm and 155mm howitzers, but also notoriously inaccurate 122mm Grad rockets and locally made Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions (IRAMs) that might land almost anywhere.

The Grad is a Soviet weapon that dates back fifty years, and consists of 40 rockets mounted in a vehicle which can be fired in volleys over a half minute period. Earlier versions of this weapon had a devastating effect on dug-in German infantry in fortified positions in World War II. Civilians crammed together in fragile houses in west Mosul would stand little chance.

The US-dominated coalition said that it tried to avoid carrying out air strikes where civilians were present, and its planes dropped leaflets telling them to move away from Isis positions. People on the ground in Mosul regarded this as a cruel joke, because they had nowhere else to go to and Isis would shoot them if they tried to run away.

In addition, the Isis system of defence was based on quickly moving its fighters from building to building through holes cut in the walls in the newer parts of Mosul; meanwhile in the Old City, where most houses have cellars, Isis linked these by tunnels so they could fire and retreat before the building they were in was destroyed, most commonly by 500 lb bombs.

“There were very few Daesh [Isis] in our neighbourhood, but they dropped a lot of bombs on them,” Qais, 47, a resident of Mosul al-Jadida district told me. He reckoned that between 600 and 1,000 people in the district had been killed, and he showed me pictures on his phone of a house that had once stood beside his own but had been reduced to a heap of smashed-up bricks.

“There were no Daesh in the house,” he said. “But there were seven members of the Abu Imad family there, of whom five were killed along with two passersby.”

A further reason for the devastation caused by the battle for west Mosul was the outcome of the fighting for east Mosul between 17 October and 24 January. The Iraqi government and the Americans had expected a hard fought but relatively swift victory, perhaps taking about two months to seize the whole of the city (in fact, it took nine months).

The attack on the part to the east of the Tigris River was primarily undertaken by the highly trained and experienced Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), fighting house to house. Air strikes were usually against carefully selected targets, and not called in at will by ground troops at the first sign of resistance.

These tactics of the pro-government forces did not work. True, they eventually captured east Mosul after three months of heavy fighting and at the cost of casualties to the CTS reported as being between 40 and 50 per cent. But they could not afford this scale of losses repeated in west Mosul, where Isis was even more deeply entrenched.

When the assault on west Mosul began on 19 February, the pro-government forces were therefore using artillery, rockets and airpower much more freely. And in addition to the CTS, they fielded the Federal Police and Emergency Response Division, both of which were far less well-trained and deemed more sectarian than the CTS. As they in turn suffered heavy casualties, they lost all restraint in use of their firepower.

Why has there not been more outcry over the destruction of west Mosul? There should be no question about the massive civilian loss of life, even if there are differences over the exact numbers of the dead.

The biggest reason for the lack of outrage is that Isis was seen as a uniquely evil movement that had to be defeated – whatever the cost in dead bodies to the people of Mosul.

It is an understandable argument, but one that in the past has meant Iraq never finds peace.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 22, 2019
Elliot Sperber
Humane War 
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Nino Pagliccia
Peace Restored in Ecuador, But is trust?
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail