DW's Matthias von Hein spoke with Amnesty International's Iraq campaiger and researcher Razaw Salihy about the outcome of the Mosul offensive. Amnesty says that coalition forces may have committed war crimes.
DW: Looking at your new report about the humanitarian catastrophe during the battle for Mosul I think it does not come as a surprise to the average reader that the fighters of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) were committing flagrant violations of human rights and international norms. But the report highlights also that the Iraqi government and the US-led coalition forces had "committed repeated violations of international humanitarian law, some of which may amount to war crimes." What are the most serious allegations in your report against the coalition?
Razaw Salihy: Iraqi and US-led coalition forces used imprecise and explosive weapons in the vicinity of civilians that led to the deaths of thousands in west Mosul. According to our findings, Iraqi and coalition forces relied on inherently indiscriminate weapons and failed to adapt their tactics to address the danger the armed group calling itself the Islamic State posed to civilians.
IS moved civilians into areas of conflict and trapped them in their homes to use them as human shields and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians who attempted to escape.
Do you see any chance that the perpetrators might be held accountable?
It is absolutely paramount that perpetrators are held accountable, and that must begin with Iraqi authorities and members of the coalition forces publicly acknowledging the massive loss of civilian lives in the military operation to retake west Mosul from the control of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State.
Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi authorities to establish an independent and impartial commission to investigate where credible evidence exists that its forces and coalition forces violated international law and make its findings public.
What does it mean for the future of Mosul that civilians are now being protected by the very forces that according to your document reportedly committed grave violations of humanitarian law and even war crimes only days ago?
Over 600,000 people have been displaced from west Mosul and the area itself has suffered tremendous destruction as we saw when we were on the ground in May 2017. Many of the families we met in camps for internally displaced people expressed fear, worry, and lack of hope for safety and stability in Mosul.
The first step to take in ensuring the safety and signaling an intention to protect civilians in or returning to Mosul is for Iraqi authorities and coalition members to publicly acknowledge the deaths, injuries and suffering inflicted on civilians by the military operation in west Mosul, and to take serious steps to provide victims and their families with prompt and full reparations. Iraqi authorities must give the people of Mosul the guarantee that this will not be the beginning of another cycle of violence.
Do we have any idea on how many civilians were actually killed during the nine months of the operation?
The true death toll of the Mosul operations may never be known. In only the period covered by this report, in which Amnesty International documented 45 attacks, at least 426 civilians were killed as a result of attacks by Iraqi forces, who relied of imprecise and explosive weapons, and air strikes by coalition forces. One resident displaced from west Mosul told us that when Iraqi forces advanced, the mortars and missiles came with them. Entire families have been killed in these operations, and many of the bodies remain under the rubble to this day.
Looking at the humanitarian situation only, do you see any difference in the operation by the Assad regime in Syria to retake Aleppo and the operation in Iraq to liberate Mosul?
Both operations have caused massive suffering for civilians caught between the fire. In Mosul, hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced to camps and now live in terrible humanitarian situations. Members of the coalition must as a matter of urgency increase funding for the humanitarian situation in and around Mosul.
Matthias von Hein conducted the interview.