The U.S.-backed Iraqi government has repeatedly struck Fallujah's main hospital with mortars and other munitions and has barrel-bombed densely populated residential areas in and around the city, according to a new report.
Published Tuesday by Human Rights Watch, the findings exposed atrocities committed in the Iraqi government's escalated campaign against armed groups in Anbar province and immediately prompted condemnation from peace and justice campaigners.
"As this report shows, the U.S. is brazenly providing Hellfire missiles and other heavy artillery to an Iraqi government that shows very little regard for the lives of people in Fallujah and areas across Iraq," Ali Issa of the War Resisters League told Common Dreams. "This must end."
According to interviews with multiple witnesses, including three employees at Fallujah General Hospital, since January the attacks have hit the emergency room, intensive care unit and other sections of the facility. While witnesses were not sure how many patients had been injured as a result, they said at least four Bangladeshi workers and three Iraqi doctors had been hurt.
An anonymous resident of Fallujah described an April 1st attack he witnessed when seeking care for his son at the hospital: "Most of the injured people were women and kids. I saw three children injured in their legs from shrapnel, one with shrapnel in his head and two in his back, and they were injured again [in the mortar strike], along with two women in the reception area. Another girl had already lost her leg in a previous mortar strike and when they took her to the hospital she was injured in her back with shrapnel."
An Anbar-based security officer with the Iraqi government, also anonymous, "said government forces have targeted the hospital with mortars and artillery on 16 separate occasions," according to the report. The testimony, combined with photographic and other evidence, strongly suggests intentional targeting of the hospital, HRW concludes.
"All hospitals, whether civilian or military, are specially protected under the laws of war," the report notes. "They may not be targeted, even if being used to treat enemy fighters."
The attacks on the hospital are in addition to the bombing of residential neighborhoods in and around Fallujah since early May. The report references "the use of barrel bombs, dropped from helicopters, on populated areas of Fallujah" and "mortar and rocket attacks that have killed civilians, and damaged or destroyed homes, at least two mosques, and one school that were not being used for military purposes."
"The government has been firing wildly into Fallujah’s residential neighborhoods for more than four months, and ramped up its attacks in May," said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch.
The Iraqi government attacks are part of an escalated military campaign that has been backed by U.S. military aid, including surveillance drones, ammunition, and Hellfire missiles.
The report notes that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), one of the armed groups opposing the Iraqi government, is also guilty of atrocities, including the deliberate killing of civilians. In addition, ISIS and the Anbar Military Council are both implicated in summary executions, according to the report.
According to Issa of WRL, "It is the sectarian policies of the Iraqi government—long empowered by the U.S.—that are making Fallujah a breeding ground for murderous al-Qaeda off-shoots like ISIS."
He added, "Since the occupation in 2003, Iraq's political elite have fostered a culture of hate as a way to play politics, leaving the vast majority of Iraqis with very little room to build on their grassroots institutions, which have survived against all odds."