More than 5 million children need urgent humanitarian aid in Iraq

More than 5 million children are in urgent need of aid in Iraq, the United Nations said on Thursday, describing the war on Islamic State as “one of the most brutal” in modern history. “Across Iraq, children continue to witness sheer horror and unimaginable violence,” the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement. More than 1,000 children have been killed and more than 1,100 wounded or maimed since 2014, when the ultra-hardline militants seized large swathes of Iraq, it said. Over 4,650 children have become separated from their families.

— source

US Coalition Admits Using Chemical Weapons Against Civilians in Iraq

Earlier this month, multiple reports surfaced of US-led coalition forces in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria, using the incendiary chemical weapon, white phosphorus, on civilians. For over a week, the US government and the coalition at large have remained silent on the issue — until now.

In an error that will likely get him much backlash, in an interview with NPR, New Zealand Brig. Gen. Hugh McAslan, and member of the US-coalition has admitted — for the first time — to using white phosphorus during operations in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

“We have utilized white phosphorous to screen areas within West Mosul to get civilians out safely,” McAslan told NPR on Tuesday.

Instead of questioning the horrid nature of the chemical weapons use on civilians, NPR echoed the general’s sentiment and noted that 28,000 civilians have managed to escape. While that may be true, countless others were injured or suffered horrifying deaths.

White phosphorus is described as an “incendiary and toxic chemical substance used as a filler in a number of different munitions that can be employed for a variety of military purposes.”

The chemical was banned internationally after the 1980 Protocol on Incendiary Weapons restricted the “use of incendiary weapons as a means or method of warfare during armed conflict.”

The use of chemical weapons is clearly prohibited in international armed conflicts. The International Committee of the Red Cross noted that “employing asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and all analogous liquids, materials or devices is listed in the Statute of the International Criminal Court as a war crime.”

— source

US military admits failures to monitor over $1 billion worth of arms transfers

The US Army failed to keep tabs on more than $1 billion worth of arms and other military equipment in Iraq and Kuwait according to a now declassified Department of Defense (DoD) audit, obtained by Amnesty International following Freedom of Information requests.

The government audit, from September 2016, reveals that the DoD “did not have accurate, up-to-date records on the quantity and location”of a vast amount of equipment pouring into Kuwait and Iraq to provision the Iraqi Army.

“This audit provides a worrying insight into the US Army’s flawed – and potentially dangerous – system for controlling millions of dollars’ worth of arms transfers to a hugely volatile region,” said Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s Arms Control and Human Rights Researcher.

“It makes for especially sobering reading given the long history of leakage of US arms to multiple armed groups committing atrocities in Iraq, including the armed group calling itself the Islamic State.”

The military transfers came under the Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF), a linchpin of US-Iraqi security cooperation. In 2015, US Congress appropriated USD$1.6 billion for the programme to combat the advance of IS.

The transfers, which include tens of thousands of assault rifles (worth USD$28 million), hundreds of mortar rounds and hundreds of Humvee armoured vehicles, were destined for use by the central Iraqi Army, including the predominantly Shi’a Popular Mobilisation Units, as well as the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

The DoD audit found several serious shortcomings in how ITEF equipment was logged and monitored from the point of delivery onward, including:

Fragmentary record-keeping in arms depots in Kuwait and Iraq. Information logged across multiple spreadsheets, databases and even on hand-written receipts.
Large quantities of equipment manually entered into multiple spreadsheets, increasing the risk of human error.
Incomplete records meaning those responsible for the equipment were unable to ascertain its location or status.

The audit also claimed that the DoD did not have responsibility for tracking ITEF transfers immediately after delivery to the Iraqi authorities, despite the fact that the department’s Golden Sentry programme is mandated to carry out post-delivery checks.

A previous DoD audit in 2015 pointed to even laxer stockpile monitoring procedures followed by the Iraqi armed forces. In some cases the Iraqi army was unaware of what was stored in its own warehouses, while other military equipment – which had never been opened or inventoried – was stored out in the open in shipping containers.

“The need for post-delivery checks is vital. Any fragilities along the transfer chain greatly increase the risks of weapons going astray in a region where armed groups have wrought havoc and caused immense human suffering,” said Patrick Wilcken.

Arms transfers fuelling atrocities

Amnesty International’s research has consistently documented lax controls and record-keeping within the Iraqi chain of command. This has resulted in arms manufactured in the USA and other countries winding up in the hands of armed groups known to be committing war crimes and other atrocities, such as IS, as well as paramilitary militias now incorporated into the Iraqi army.

In response to the audit, the US military has pledged to tighten up its systems for tracking and monitoring future transfers to Iraq.

However, the DoD made almost identical commitments in response to a report for Congress as long ago as 2007 that raised similar concerns.

“After all this time and all these warnings, the same problems keep re-occurring. This should be an urgent wake-up call for the US, and all countries supplying arms to Iraq, to urgently shore up checks and controls. Sending millions of dollars’ worth of arms into a black hole and hoping for the best is not a viable counter-terrorism strategy; it is just reckless,” said Patrick Wilcken.

“Any state selling arms to Iraq must show that there are strict measures in place to make sure the weapons will not be used to violate rights. Without these safeguards, no transfer should take place.”

Amnesty International is urging the USA to comply with the Leahy Law, which prohibits the supply of most types of US military aid and training to foreign security, military and police units credibly alleged to have committed “gross human rights violations”.

The USA and Iraq must also accede to the global Arms Trade Treaty, which has strict rules in place to stop arms transfers or diversion of arms that could fuel atrocities.

— source

Underneath this sectarianism and war on terror

it is the concrete economic security interest of regional and international players

PAUL JAY: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

On July 3, shortly after midnight, Baghdad suffered its most devastating car bomb since the U.S. invaded in 2003. The death toll has now reached over 250 with hundreds more wounded as a truck filled with explosives detonated in a busy part of Baghdad at the end of holy Ramadan celebrations. The bomb exploded in a mostly Shia neighborhood and the Islamic state, which adheres to Sunni denomination of Islam, took responsibility for the attack. This bombing took place in the wake of a series of deadly attacks and had been attributed to ISIS in the past week such as an Istanbul, Turkey, and [Indaka-Bangladesh].

With us to analyze what’s going on in Iraq is Sabah Alnasseri. Born in Basra, Iraq, he’s an associate professor and director of the graduate program of political science at York University in Toronto. Thanks for joining us, Sabah.

SABAH ALNASSERI: Good to be with you.

JAY: So the analysis we’re hearing mostly is that ISIS has lost territory, and the results of this are striking out and–the only way it can, and that’s the reasons behind the Baghdad attack and some of the other attacks. What do you make of that?

ALNASSERI: Well, following this strategy of ISIS was always to control territory for time. For time to initiate attacks on different targets in the region, especially with the conflict in Iraq and Syria not resolved. So it was always temporary occupation of territory, not as an objective itself. So when they lost some territorial spaces–pockets in Fallujah, in Iraq–they shifted their strategies to attack other cities and provinces in Iraq. So it has always been the case. There’s nothing new about these developments, and I’m not sure why everybody’s surprised or why everybody believe[s] that because ISIS lost territory that’s why they go back to the old tradition of so-called terrorist attacks.

JAY: And what does ISIS hope to achieve by car bombs in Shia areas of Iraq? I mean, do they think they will make life so unlivable for people that eventually they will be allowed to have their territory without it being opposed?

ALNASSERI: So if you’ve got concretely upbeat neighborhoods, the target of ISIS in Baghdad, let’s say a [southern city] or Karrada where the recent attack happens. Or [inaud.] the [inaud.]. All these neighborhoods are working class, unemployed, poor neighborhoods of Baghdad. The targets could never be the wealthy community in Baghdad where the wealthy Iraqis live with their private securities protecting them or the green zone where the ministers and their parties living in their policies. And that’s why you can see why when minister, President [inaud.] came to the scene of bombing, people start throwing stones attacking his convoy, blaming the government and the Iraq state and not so much ISIS.

JAY: Now, in terms of ISIS objectives, why would they target poor working-classers? I understand their security in the other areas of the wealthy, but mind you, there have been successful terrorist attacks even with that kind of security. And if a car bomb drives into something and blows it up, there must be a tactic here.

ALNASSERI: There are now three moments that explain why this happens. First, this truck full with bombs came from Diyala, which is north of Baghdad. It went through numerous checkpoints without being detected. So what–for three reasons, and that’s what I’ve termed systemic corruption which the United States actually institutionalized in Iraq. The first one is, the Iraqi security forces are still using so-called golf ball [detected]. You know, sold to them by British criminals as bomb detectors. The guy is presently serving ten years for security fraud. The Iraqi soldiers at the checkpoint now are still using these so-called golf ball detectors. They cannot detect anything. This is the first form of corruption.

The second form is if we look up the security of persons in Iraq, and especially Baghdad, you will see there is inflated as such to create employment through the parties and militias.

JAY: Just before you make that point let’s go back to this golf ball thing. It’s kind of crazy story. So this guy created this supposed thing for golfers to go find their golf balls which didn’t work, didn’t find golf balls. They sell those to the Iraqi government to find hidden explosives, which of course it didn’t find those either. So the idea of there’s a corruptionism is there must’ve been some kind of payment in order to induce the Iraqis to buy something that didn’t work. Because it must’ve been pretty obvious. You can test the thing and see it didn’t work.

ALNASSERI: Yes. You see one of the screwed up part is on the contract has been negotiated, dealt with behind the scene. So ministers are generals received a million of dollars to secure deals that are unnecessary and ruthless. And this is in the corruption, 6 years in Iraq. And the most bizzare thing is even though it was clearly a fraud and the person they paid was so the poor Iraq soldier at this checkpoint are still using these detectors because one of the officers was arguing, well at least they have something to do. So that means they didn’t even—the security of the people at this poor neighborhood seriously because of this class [openness] attitude.

JAY: So is the objective then, of ISIS, to get the people in the poor Sunni working class areas to turn on the government?

ALNASSERI: The point, the [inaud.] among the Iraqi population vis-a-vis the government and their state and turn it against them. The state up against ISIS or other forces within Iraq. And I think this is very strong appeal because as you can see when Abadi come forward, this is–

JAY: Abadi meaning a prime minister, the current prime minster of Iraq.

ALNASSERI: Exactly, people accuse him of corruption and he is the reason why his government, why they are attacked. Again, this is the first movement of corruption. The second movement, this inflate security of [inaud.] is nothing but an employment venue for all the militias and supporters of the government party. And most of them, you know they buy and sell the security post so normally they are on paper. But in fact so none of them is in charge or taking care of the security of the people.

And the third moment which is so dramatic, that the internal minister of [Kabaan] resigned yesterday because he was complaining that there are overlapping jurisdiction with the security apparatus. That means in Baghdad you have the army, the central police, and the local police, and the later is under the jurisdiction of [general ministers]. In all of these they have different reporting systems. Counter insurgency agencies or regional security demands or defense ministries so there is no coordinated chain of command or intelligence in the recorded system that makes clear to the [general minister] what and what place create an organized cause. That is one of the reasons why I can operate so easily in Baghdad or other parts of Iraq or the whole neighborhood because they are not secured and left open in fact to be attacked by ISIS or any other extremist group.

JAY: So in terms of U.S. policy. If defense against terrorism, the talk of terrorist attacks coming increasingly to the United States and so on, which they haven’t nearly as much as one thought they might’ve, what is U.S. policy actually achieving there?

ALNASSERI: Well you know, Paul, I’ve argued a long time ago on the Real News that the purpose is to create what they have termed the creative cares. The policy is to control our instability in the bridge. So much–I’ll give an example, why things are shifting and why the US is losing more and more control within the Middle East. You see especially after the attack on [divia] and the destruction of the [diven] state and so on. After that, Russia and China decided there would be no other military intervention in the Middle East because that would mean the end of the presence of especially Russia and behind the scenes China in the Middle East.

They stopped coordinating their strategy to pragmatically, politically, and militarily, in the Middle East to push back against U.S. and NATO intervention in the Middle East. Why they are doing this? Because Russia realized NATO is expanding its work, especially through Ukraine and China, realized that the U.S. expanding this Pacific strategy to contain China and Russia.

So what they are trying to do is to hit back at the center of the U.S. influence on the world, which is the Middle East. That’s why the Middle East became, if you would like, the hub, the melting point of the rivalries of global power maybe since the 1991 [inaud.] breakdown. It is a very dangerous development, and many people in the Middle East are saying, we are already in third world and we don’t notice it. So there’s a whole foreign policy of the U.S. after 1991, is to control the region with instability. By creating chaos it’s not hitting back against the U.S. and it’s losing control in the Middle East, and the most dangerous thing about it, as you know, the more they lose control, the more militarized became the conflict and the more dangerous it becomes.

JAY: Well I wonder if this losing of control is actually more part of controlled chaos in the sense–like, who’s managing U.S. foreign policy? To a large extent these are people who were opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. So they weren’t–they’re dealing with a situation created by the Bush administration and people that wouldn’t listen to the professionals. Because as we know now, almost the entire professional, intelligence and military apparatus is against the invasion of Iraq.

Now they’re dealing with the consequences of that, and maybe the objective is they see there’s kind of an upside in this craziness. You know, as long as everybody’s killing each other, there’s arm sales, no power can really vi to contend, the states are in no–they are fueling the rivalry. Even the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. Obviously each side has its own agenda there. Each trying to assert its power. But it’s very much in American interest to keep that rivalry going. You know, maybe the controlled chaos is still working for them and truth is, that’s far more in their interests than worrying about the odd terrorist attack that might come to the United States because, frankly, like in Baghdad, it isn’t likely the wealthy that are going to wind up dead, World Trade Towers exempt from that. But the more recent attacks have been ordinary people in the streets.

ALNASSERI: Right. I agree with you, and I want to give an example. Because sometimes for all these so-called terror attack and sectarianism and so on, we don’t see what is really taking place on the ground. I’ll give you this clear example to firm what you were saying. If you look at, for instance, the involvement of the United Emirates and the conflict in Yemen. Now, everybody was thinking that the Emirates and the Saudis are attacking the Houthis because the Houthis are supported by Iran.

Now if you look at concretely what the United Emirates did in Yemen, you will see first of all, they fought with mercenaries from Colombia. So they internationalized the security apparatus. So now you have Colombian mercenaries fighting for the United Arab Emirates in Yemen. But what for are they fighting for. You know, the United Arab Emirates fear that if there’s a conflict in the U.S. and Iran, Iran will close the Hormuz Strait. And that’s the only part that the United Arab Emirates have for export import. So when they went to Yemen, they wanted to occupy the Aden Port in Yemen and invest it and keep it as a backup port for the United Arab Emirates for its export and imports just in case there is a conflict in the Gulf.

So when they withdraw their soldiers a few weeks ago saying mission accomplished, this is precisely what they had in mind. To occupy the Aden Port and invest hugely there to make it de facto Emirate Arab port in Yemen. So if we look at completely in a in a political economic sense we’ll see underneath this sectarianism and the talk of war on terror that the concrete economic security interest of regional and international players and you’re right, it’s not only the U.S. It’s the Saudi’s, the Iraqis, it’s the Iranians, and so on.

JAY: But all come within the American umbrella.

ALNASSERI: For now yes. But the problem is I think there are a lot of holes in the American umbrella.

JAY: All right. Thanks very much for joining us, and we’ll continue this conversation. I hope as soon as next week.

ALNASSERI: Thanks for having me, Paul.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

Sabah Alnasseri was born in Basra, Iraq, and earned his doctorate at the Johann-Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He teaches Middle East politics and economy at the Political Science Department at York University in Toronto, Canada. His publications cover various topics in Marxist political economy, Marxist state theory in the tradition of Gramsci, Poulantzas and Althusser, theory of regulation, and Middle East politics and economy.

Hundreds of Iraqi Civilians Killed in U.S. Airstrikes After Being Told Not to Flee Mosul

The Iraq War started 14 years ago this month, and it is showing no signs of letting up. Since President Trump took office, the U.S. military has expanded its aerial bombing campaign targeting areas held by the Islamic State. The Air Force Times is reporting U.S.-backed military aircraft have dropped over 2,000 bombs on the ISIS-held city of Mosul so far this month. According to Airwars, almost 1,500 civilians have reportedly been killed in U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria this month alone. On March 17, a U.S. airstrike in Mosul reportedly killed up to 200 civilians. Meanwhile, Amnesty International is reporting that hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been killed by U.S.-led airstrikes inside their homes or in places where they sought refuge following Iraqi government advice not to leave during the offensive to recapture the city of Mosul.

Donatella Rovera talking:

With regard to the strike that happened on March 17, the details are really not known as yet. There are allegations. There are reports. We at Amnesty International have not had a chance to investigate that particular attack on the ground as yet. The United States has now promised to carry out an investigation. The Iraqi authorities initially denied that the alleged strike was the work of the coalition, but rather that it had been an ISIS attack. But now there seems to be admission that that strike was indeed an airstrike from the coalition.

However, what I would like to draw your attention to is the fact that civilians have been killed in their homes from the very beginning of the operation to recapture Mosul, which started in October of last year. All the cases that I investigated during my time on the ground in Mosul were in east Mosul, between the end of October and late January, when that part of the city was completely recaptured by Iraqi forces. And family after family I spoke to, the sites that I visited were all of homes, civilian homes, that had been struck, and their residents, or the people who were sheltering in those homes, were killed. And that was, indeed, after Iraqi forces dropped leaflets telling people, advising them, to remain in their homes. So, the fact that civilians were—residents of Mosul were in their homes was very well known prior to the beginning of the military campaign.

Similarly, the fact that ISIS militants use civilians as human shields, in addition to carry out countless other crimes, that, too, was well known both to Iraqi forces and to the members of the coalition, the U.S.-led coalition that is taking the lead in the air campaign. So, provisions should have been made to take into account that particular fact, in order—you know, as deciding what kind of military strategy to pursue to recapture the city. What I have seen on the ground is entire homes, sometimes two or three houses, one next to the other, having been completely destroyed, reduced to rubble. And, of course, those civilians who were in those houses, in many cases, really had no chance of coming out alive. And in most of those cases, the residents and the survivors themselves told me that there were ISIS members who were on the roof or perhaps in the garden or around the house. Certainly, those ISIS militants could have been targeted with munitions that have a smaller blast radius and that create less collateral damage, rather than destroy a whole two- or three-story house full of civilians because of two or three ISIS militants on the roof.

– one Republican representative here in the U.S., from Arizona, has questioned whether the high standards for avoiding civilian casualties should not be met, in fact, that they’re, quote, “ridiculous,” because they allow ISIS militants to use civilians as a defense so that ISIS can, quote, “live to fight another day.”

we’re not privy to that level of details, you know, to the details of the exact rule of engagements. We are aware that there have been discussions in the media and elsewhere about a possible relaxation of the rules of engagement of recent—in recent weeks. I don’t know whether that’s the case or not. But certainly, even if the rules of engagement have not changed and remain what they were at the beginning of the operation, what I have seen on the ground in east Mosul suggests and actually strongly indicates that not everything that could and indeed should have been done to spare civilians, to protect civilian life, has been done.

At Amnesty International, we’re not naïve to the fact that urban warfare inherently carries risks for civilians, and that it would be naïve to hope that a war in the middle of a city like Mosul could happen without any civilian casualties. You know, those, unfortunately, are part of that particular equation. However, that fact alone and the fact that ISIS uses civilians as human shields do not in any way relieve the fighting parties—in this case, the U.S.-led coalition as well as the Iraqi forces who are doing the fighting on the ground—do not relieve them of their obligation under international law. It is plainly clear that it is possible to take additional measures to protect civilians. And, you know, as I said earlier, the choice of munitions when fighting in a densely populated urban area is paramount. A margin of error or even—of even just a few meters, using munitions that have a much wider blast radius, will ultimately put at greater risk civilians who are in the vicinity of the target itself. Precision munitions are available. They have been used in other theaters. They have been used in Iraq, as well, at other times. And they could help to minimize civilian casualties.

I would certainly concur with the statement that ISIS hides behind civilians and that ISIS does not care about respecting international law. In fact, it does everything it can to violate it, and does so very openly. That’s very true. But that’s been known for a long time, and it should have been taken into consideration when planning the military campaign.

As for the other part of the statement, that every measure is taken to minimize civilian casualties, I would find it difficult to agree with that, because of what I’ve seen on the ground. As I said, residents in Mosul were very open about the fact that ISIS positions snipers on their rooftops, usually in very small numbers, obviously, again, to avoid being detected, or that ISIS fighters were going in and out of houses, hanging around in people’s gardens and so on and so forth. Nobody has been denying that. The fact is the kind of measures that have been taken—when targeting those ISIS militants, what kind of measures were taken to protect the civilians around them? Because the kind of scenes that I’ve seen in Mosul is entire houses collapsed, brought down by airstrikes, in order to target one or two or three individuals on a rooftop. Every military expert knows that there are other means available, other types of munitions available, that will not bring down an entire building but will take out legitimate targets. I mean, we’ve seen, even in Mosul, at times in the past, ISIS fighters being taken out while driving on a motorcycle. So, you know, there is no dispute that more precise munitions than large bombs that bring down an entire building are available and are being used in other theaters. So, you know, that could help to minimize civilian casualties for sure.

With regard to this investigation that is going on, according to statements made by U.S. personnel, that—about the attack of the 17th of March, obviously, that’s a good thing that there should be an investigation. The investigation should be independent. It should be thorough. But also, the same kind of investigation should be conducted, and indeed should have been conducted earlier, into the kind of casualties that have resulted from other strikes that have been taking place earlier on in the campaign, from October. And perhaps if that kind of investigation had been done at the end of the or during the fight in east Mosul, it might have informed the kind of strategy to be used in west Mosul. There was about a month pause between the fighting in east Mosul and the renewed fighting in west Mosul. So, perhaps if that time had been used to have a proper investigation and a review of civilian casualties, that occurred in their hundreds in east Mosul, it might have informed the strategy to pursue in west Mosul, and perhaps incidents such as that reported on the 17th of March with a very large loss of civilian lives, according to reports—perhaps those incidents might have been avoided.

Obviously, fleeing the fighting is very difficult, but we are seeing civilians fleeing west Mosul in much, much greater numbers than those—than the numbers who fled from east Mosul, partly, perhaps, because the message has got through to civilians that staying in your homes, as they were advised to do, is not necessarily the safest option. And so, many more people are taking the risk to try and flee with their families. It is risky for them to remain, and it is risky for them to flee. But we are seeing a much larger number of civilians fleeing west Mosul than was the case for the east part of the city.

Donatella Rovera
senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International. The organization released a report this week, “Civilians killed by airstrikes in their homes after they were told not to flee Mosul.”

— source

More Than 1,000 Civilians Reportedly Killed by U.S.-Led Airstrikes

The U.S.-backed Iraqi military’s ground campaign to retake west Mosul from ISIS has been halted, as details emerged over the weekend about U.S.-led coalition airstrikes that are believed to have killed over 200 people in a single day. The U.S.-led coalition has admitted launching airstrikes on March 17th that targeted a crowded neighborhood in Mosul. They are among the deadliest U.S. airstrikes in the region since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to reports, one of these strikes hit an explosive-filled truck, triggering a blast that destroyed nearby houses where hundreds of people were taking refuge amid the city’s heavy fighting. Up to 80 civilians, including women and children, may have died in one house’s basement alone.

This bombing is just one of an onslaught of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that’s killed as many as a thousand civilians in March alone, according to the journalistic project Airwars. Another one of these strikes occurred last week in Syria, when a U.S. Reaper drone struck a gathering in the rebel-held village near Aleppo, killing as many as 49 people. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, most of the dead were civilians who had gathered at a mosque to pray. The Pentagon acknowledged carrying out strikes on this village, but denied hitting a mosque. Pentagon officials said the gathering was a meeting of al-Qaeda. The high civilian death toll is leading many to question whether the U.S. military has loosened the rules of engagement that seek to limit civilian casualties. The Pentagon maintains the rules have not changed.

Chris Woods talking:

This is a very complicated event, and, in fact, the story is still changing today. We know that a devastating explosion, or sequence of explosions, took place in the al-Jadida neighborhood, the New Mosul area. And a minimum of 101 civilians died. Some claims have placed the number of dead in that immediate neighborhood at over 500. We’re talking like a really catastrophic event.

In terms of attributing responsibility, that’s proving more challenging. The coalition, as you said, has said it did conduct an airstrike in the immediate vicinity on March 17th. But what’s complicating this is that the Iraq military also appears to have conducted artillery strikes into that immediate area, and there may or may not have been ISIS booby traps or a vehicle-borne truck bomb. So it’s a very complex event. We also—with the coalition, we don’t know which coalition partners were involved in the event—the United States most probably, but there are four other nations in the coalition also bombing quite heavily at Mosul at the moment.

these are Australia, the United Kingdom, Belgium and France. All of them have said that Mosul is where most of their airstrikes are now taking place. So, a lot of—a lot of people involved here. But, of course, you know, the reality here is that more than a hundred civilians certainly are dead, Washington Post saying this morning that they’ve been speaking to civil defense in Baghdad—in Mosul, and a minimum of 101 bodies so far removed from the scene, and perhaps many more—many more bodies there. And this is what leads to this report of this is possibly one of the highest-ever reported civilian casualty events that the coalition or the U.S. may have been involved in.

it was certainly reported that the campaign had been paused, but, in fact, there’s very little sign of that. The airstrikes have still been going in very heavily from not just the coalition, but also the Iraqis. Two more neighborhoods were captured by Iraqi ground forces just yesterday from ISIS. So, there may have been a slowing down of the campaign, but really, I think, you know, the coalition, the Iraq government, is keen to capture west Mosul as quickly as possible. They’re gambling here that the quicker they capture the city, the less overall risk of harm there is to civilians. But civilians are paying a terrible price here. According to one report last week, which appears to have come from a senior Iraq military official, 4,000 civilians have died in the first month of fighting for west Mosul. That’s a thousand civilians being killed a week at the moment. Those are very high numbers—unacceptable numbers, in our view.

here’s no doubt that the number of allegations and reported fatalities are through the roof. We have more than 120 alleged civilian casualty events from the coalition so far in March. That’s across Iraq and Syria. We have more than 1,200 civilians reported killed, alleged killed, by coalition actions. Those are way up there with the levels of allegations we saw against Russia last year when it was bombing across Syria. So these are very, very high levels of reported civilian casualties.

Part of that is definitely to do with west Mosul. The U.N. had warned beforehand, the aid agencies had warned, NGOs had warned there were going to be a lot of civilian casualties, because so many civilians were trapped in the city. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing. And we’re seeing far too many civilians killed in west Mosul. But we’re seeing many civilians being reported killed in northern Syria, as well, around Raqqa. And the assault on Raqqa itself hasn’t even begun yet, and yet we’re seeing two, three, four civilian casualty events a day around Raqqa.

So, yes, civilian deaths are way up with the coalition. What’s still somewhat difficult to untangle is whether we would have seen that under Obama. The strikes were rising. The deaths were rising steeply in the last months of Obama. Trump has obviously inherited Obama’s battle plan, to some degree. Even so, we’re hearing from Iraqi officials that it is easier to call in airstrikes now, particularly U.S. strikes. So the picture is still confused. I actually think this is—you know, we need a straight answer from the Pentagon, from the White House. Have they lifted restrictions that were there to protect civilians on the battlefield? Because ordinary Iraqis and Syrians have a right to know that. This is a life-and-death issue for them.

– In Syria, a U.S. Reaper drone recently struck a gathering in the rebel-held village in the province of Aleppo. As many as 49 people died. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, most of the dead were civilians who had gathered at a mosque to pray. The Pentagon acknowledges carrying out strikes on the village, but denied hitting a mosque. They said the gathering was a meeting of al-Qaeda members.

report from the ground is in agreement that this was a mosque complex, that it looks like the U.S. wasn’t aware that a new building that had been built near the old mosque was an extension of that complex, and that hundreds of locals were gathered for a religious meeting when that unilateral U.S. strike took place. So this wasn’t a coalition attack. It was a unilateral U.S. targeted attack, the kind we’ve more usually seen in Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia. And it’s part of this shadow war that only America has been conducting against al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria. It gets very little publicity, but, in fact, many of these strikes taking place now. And again, they’ve ramped up under Trump, although in the last weeks of Obama we saw quite a big jump in the number of those reports. Significant numbers of civilians killed in that event, as well.

I think one thing we’re really seeing with Syria is poor intelligence. It seems CENTCOM did not know that that was a mosque building. And again, there was a school reported targeted and destroyed just last week in a place called Tabqa, near Raqqa. In that instance, the school was being used by internally displaced people. And there were reports of up to a hundred families being in that building when it was struck. There’s still a great deal of dispute about how many civilians died. But a minimum, we think, of about 35 civilians were killed in that event, as well. This is poor intelligence. Any local would have been able to tell them that IDPs, displaced civilians, were living in that building. And I think this is—this is about the proxy force that America is using in Syria today, which are not from this area—the SDF, primarily Kurdish force. It’s poor intelligence. It’s strikes being conducted very quickly. And civilians on the ground in Syria are paying a significant price for that.

a few weeks ago, we were very critical of international media for not covering the civilian casualties in Iraq, in Syria. That’s really changed now. Great work being done by international, regional, local media in both countries, really outstanding journalism now, looking at these civilian casualties. The disconnect is domestically. Where are the political voices being raised about this? There was a lot of anger from our politicians last year with Aleppo, and quite rightly so, when so many civilians died. Where are the raised voices here on behalf of Syrians and Iraqis who are dying as a result of our bombs?

Chris Woods
founder of Airwars, a nonprofit group that monitors civilian deaths from international airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Woods is also an award-winning reporter and the author of Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars.

— source

Ancient Syrian treasures worth $26m shipped to US

Since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, $26 million worth of antiquities have been imported to the United States from the war-torn country, according to Live Science. The news website gathered its information from US Census Bureau documents, which listed many unidentified and undated items, marked only as “over 100 years old.”

The documents did not reveal, however, whether the items were imported illegally or whether profits were being made from their resale. The bulk of the antiques in the Census Bureau documents had arrived in New York, a hub for collectors and dealers.

Ancient historical sites in Egypt, Iraq and Syria have been targeted by robbers since the upheaval brought about by the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. The Census Bureau data also showed that more than $12 million-worth of Iraqi antiques had been shipped to the US since that same year.

“The profit derived by the Islamists from the illicit trade in antiquities and archaeological treasures is estimated at $150-200 million per year,” Vitaly Churkin wrote in a letter to the UN’s Security Council.

— source