Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed in recent months by imprecise bombings by the U.S.-led coalition in Mosul. (Photo: arif_shamim/Flickr/cc)

Destroying Mosul to Save It: Possible US-Backed War Crimes in Iraq Exposed

As Trump applauds victory against ISIS in devastated Iraqi city, Amnesty International details horrific death toll and suffering of civilian population

Julia Conley

As Iraqi forces celebrate their victory over the Islamic State (ISIS) in Mosul, a damning new report by Amnesty International sheds light on the killing of Iraqi civilians at the hands of the U.S.-led coalition which "may constitute war crimes"—and demands that the coalition acknowledges the loss of civilian life and takes steps to lessen non-military casualties.

Thousands of civilians have been killed in Mosul and millions have been displaced since ISIS took control of the city in June 2014. The crimes of the group have been well documented by Amnesty International and other human rights groups. The report notes that ISIS deliberately put thousands of civilians in harm's way, using them as human shields in the city's conflict zones, and killing people who attempted to escape.

The report also focuses on the human cost of the U.S.-led coalition's actions in Mosul. Amnesty interviewed 150 witnesses, experts and analysts about dozens of attacks, and focused on a pattern of attacks that took place between January and July 2017.

"The horrors that the people of Mosul have witnessed and the disregard for human life by all parties to this conflict must not go unpunished," says Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's director of research for the Middle East. "Entire families have been wiped out, many of whom are still buried under the rubble today. The people of Mosul deserve to know, from their government, that there will be justice and reparation so that the harrowing impact of this operation is duly addressed."

The coalition's attacks were largely carried out with Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions (IRAMs), explosives with unsophisticated targeting abilities, which "wreaked havoc in densely-populated west Mosul and took the lives of thousands of civilians," according to the report. Air strikes by U.S. planes were also frequent during this time period, and the report says the coalition did little to protect civilians from these attacks.

"They did air-drop leaflets into [ISIS]-controlled areas of the city, instructing civilians to stay away from [ISIS] or to hang children's clothes on the roof to mark civilian homes. These warnings, however, took little account of the realities of living under [ISIS]. Staying away from [ISIS] was impossible for west Mosul residents and fighters would execute anyone caught with a flyer in their hands. Houses with children's clothes on the roof were still hit by air strikes."

"ISIS's use of people as human shields does not lessen the legal obligation of pro-government forces to protect civilians," says Maalouf. "Military planners should have taken extra care in the manner in which they used their weapons to ensure that these attacks were not unlawful."

Amnesty International is demanding that Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition limit the use of IRAMs in the fight against ISIL; it says the weapons "should never be used in densely populated civilian areas." It also joins other human rights groups in calling for an urgent increase in funding for humanitarian assistance for those who have fled the fighting in Mosul.

The report also notes that the coalition must publicly acknowledge the human cost of the fighting in Mosul. In his official statement on the retaking of Mosul by the Iraqi forces, President Donald Trump made no mention of civilian deaths that resulted from coalition attacks, instead acknowledging only the Iraqis who have been killed and displaced by ISIS.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Surging Prices Amid Ukraine War Have Pushed 71 Million People Worldwide Into Poverty

As the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, said one U.N. official, "the threat of increased social unrest grows by the day."

Julia Conley ·


Slamming Their Profits From 'Weapons of War,' House Panel Asks Gun CEOs to Testify

"Products sold by your company have been used for decades to carry out homicides and even mass murders," the Democratic chair of the House Oversight Committee told the top executives of three major gun makers.

Jake Johnson ·


Lee, Pocan File Amendment to Slash $100 Billion From US Military Budget

"For far too long, this country has put profits ahead of its people," said Rep. Barbara Lee. "Nowhere is that more apparent than in our Pentagon topline budget."

Jake Johnson ·


UK Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson Resigns Amid Relentless Scandal

"Real change can only come when the Tories are swept away and replaced with a people's government to redistribute wealth and power," said former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Jake Johnson ·


Fulton County Subpoenas of Trump Allies Offer Hope 'That Justice Will Ultimately Be Served'

"The coordinated attempts by former President Donald Trump and his associates to discount and ignore the will of Georgian voters during the 2020 election cannot be swept under the rug," said one activist.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo