Nearly 12,000 civilians have been killed by US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria since 2014, according to a statement from the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.
IHCHR spokesman Dr. Ali A. Al-Bayati said on Saturday that "about 11,800 civilians, including 2,300 children and 1,130 women, were killed in addition to 8,000 wounded by the bombing of the coalition in Iraq and Syria."
There have been more than 30,000 US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria since former president Barack Obama launched Operation Inherent Resolve, the anti-Islamic State (IS) campaign, in June 2014. The vast majority of these bombings have been carried out by US warplanes. Britain, France, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Turkey have also conducted thousands of air strikes. So has Russia, which is fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
While Al-Bayati said IHCHR "appreciates the efforts" of the US-led coalition "in helping Iraq in its fight against terrorism," he lamented that the 11,800 deaths he reported "are much more than the official numbers published by the international coalition." The US military estimated in December that "at least 1,139 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve."
Al-Bayati said the high number of civilians killed constituted "clear violations of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention, which oblige all belligerents to abide by safety standards and to protect civilians in wars."
Although US military and government officials claim to take great care to avoid killing or injuring civilians, the United States has been widely criticized for the high number of innocent people killed in Iraq and Syria, as well as for undercounting and failing to adequately investigate incidents in which civilians are harmed. Last week, French Col. Francois-Regis Legrier, who commands artillery strikes supporting Kurdish-led fighters in Syria, blasted allied conduct in the war against IS.
"We have massively destroyed the infrastructure and given the population a disgusting image of what may be a Western-style liberation, leaving behind the seeds of an imminent resurgence of a new adversary," Legrier wrote in the National Defense Review. A French Army spokesman said the colonel could face punishment for his unusual comments.
In the wider US-led war against terrorism, at least hundreds of thousands and likely well over a million men, women and children have died since late 2001. The US military has killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force in the world since the nuclear war waged against Japan in August 1945.
Shortly after entering office, President Donald Trump – who campaigned on a promise to "bomb the shit out of" IS militants and "take out their families" – loosened rules of engagement meant to protect civilians. A dramatic increase in civilian casualties followed in six of the seven countries subjected to the open-ended US-led war against terrorism. In May 2017, former defense secretary James Mattis announced that the US was shifting from a policy of "attrition" to one of "annihilation" in the fight against IS, while dismissing civilian casualties as a wartime "fact of life."
Just weeks after Mattis’ announcement, US forces bombed an apartment building in the densely populated Jadida neighborhood of Mosul, Iraq, killing nearly 300 people in what is likely the deadliest single US air strike since the Vietnam War.
While civilian casualties caused by coalition forces have fallen off to near zero in Iraq since IS was largely routed in the country in late 2017, coalition bombing and shelling are still killing and wounding civilians in Syria. The UK-based monitor groups Airwars and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) have reported scores of civilians killed since Trump declared victory over IS in December.
Brett Wilkins is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist whose work, which focuses on issues of war and peace and human rights, is archived at www.brettwilkins.com.