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Iraq government bombing of Al-Qaim is ‘war crime’

An Iraqi military helicopters seen during an operation to carry coalition troops from Nineveh Joint Operations Command headquarters to various parts of Mosul, on October 19, 2016 [Anadolu Agency]
An Iraqi military helicopters seen during an operation to carry coalition troops from Nineveh Joint Operations Command headquarters to various parts of Mosul, on October 19, 2016 [Anadolu Agency]

An international team of Iraq experts, researchers and analysts have released a damning report that accuses the Iraqi government of being in breach of the Geneva Conventions and of having committed war crimes in an air raid on civilian targets earlier this month.

The report, compiled by the Jordan-based Iraqi War Crimes Documentation Centre (IWDC) and the UK-based Iraq monitor, Foreign Relations Bureau – Iraq (FRB), described the airstrikes against Al-Qaim in Iraq’s Anbar province as “another crime in a long list of those carried out under the cover of fighting IS,” using another acronym for the Daesh militant group.

The Iraqi Air Force launched three airstrikes against the Daesh-held town of Al-Qaim on 7 December but targeted the main commercial strip of the western Iraqi border town, striking two buildings and a market, according to the report.

The airstrikes targeted a wide area known as the Al-Qaim Souq, a market that stretches out before the city’s Grand Mosque in the city centre. The bombings did not only strike the market, but also levelled two other buildings in the vicinity that were used for commercial and residential purposes.

As a result, approximately 120 civilians were killed, a large proportion of whom were women and children.

Daesh as an ‘excuse’ to bomb Sunni Arabs

The report indicated that Daesh militants were frequently used as an excuse by the Iraqi authorities to justify indiscriminate attacks that end up claiming disproportionate numbers of civilian fatalities and destruction of infrastructure.

Citing a local activist, the IWDC reported that Daesh fighters were not even on the scene until after the attacks, whereupon they confiscated footage taken by locals in the area and threatened to kill anyone who filmed without permission.

“[Daesh] arrived on the scene 20 minutes after bombardment began, and threatened to kill local citizen journalists should they decide to film future events,” the activist said.

Providing an analysis of the attack, the report said that Daesh was used as “a rhetorical shield behind which officials from Baghdad’s central government [can hide],” adding “There is no denying the excessive use of force…No excuse can relieve the government of its responsibility.”

Speaking to MEMO, Ahmed Almahmoud, a media analyst with FRB, said: “Daesh is a handy excuse whenever the Baghdad government or anyone else wants to evade culpability for killing civilians, especially Sunni Arabs.”

“The government contains elements that are strongly sectarian and serve Iranian, rather than Iraqi, interests. This means that attacks can have sectarian motivations, but these will be ignored so long as Daesh is available as a useful justification.”

Iraqi government responsible for attack

The Iraqi military initially said that the airstrikes were “a mistake” only for the Iraqi government under Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to later contradict their own armed forces and to lay the blame on “unidentified aircraft”.

This led to confusion, as the Iraqi government are the only country to fly military aircraft in Iraqi airspace apart from the US-led anti-Daesh coalition, who denied all responsibility for the attack although they admitted to bombing a hospital in Mosul the day before.

However, and speaking on behalf of the Iraqi interior ministry, Brigadier-General Saad Maan said on state-run television that “the attack on Al-Qaim was a success which was carried out based on detailed and reliable intelligence.”

Iraq’s parliamentary speaker, Saleem Al-Jibouri, released a statement saying: “The Speaker holds the government responsible for such mistakes, asking them to open an immediate inquiry to find out the truth of the incident and to guarantee that civilians are not targeted again.”

The admissions of the Iraqi military, interior ministry and parliament therefore indicate the Iraqi government’s responsibility for the deadly air raid.

Intentionally targeting and killing civilians, including women and children, are war crimes.

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