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The battle for Mosul

AirstrikeLast week, I received the following email:

“Dear Friends,

As you might have heard, the American Coalition have been bombing civilian areas in Mosul. Over the past few days the coalition targeted 3 houses of well known professors and researchers in Mosul University. One of them was my college professor and mentor Prof. Dr Mohamad Tybee Al-Layla.

Dr Al-Layla got his PhD in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of Texas, USA. Worked as a faculty member in the Department of Civil Engineering in the Engineering College of University of Mosul since the early seventies of the last century. He was assigned as a Chairman of the Civil Engineering Department and the dean of the college twice. Supervised more than 30 PhD and Master degree thesis in Geotechnical Engineering and Civil Engineering. He published 48 research and technical papers in Iraq and abroad, and became an editing member of 3 scientific journals and magazines.

He received the prestigious award of the Iraqi Science Day on June 2nd, 2014.

He worked sincerely and hard for about 40 years to educate and help thousands of highly efficient and intelligent engineers graduate, many of whom became ministers, deputy ministers, academics and high ranking executive directors in Geotechnical, Irrigation Engineering and other civil and political posts inside Iraq and abroad.

Being one his students, it breaks our hearts that even though Dr Al-Layla was such a great scientific Iraqi figure who never let down or disappointed the University of Mosul community or even the city of Mosul in its hardest times, the crime of targeting his house by the American Coalition and his painful death along with his innocent family under the rubbles of his house, will remain an unforgettable disaster to us, one that all parties hold responsibility for, that reminds all of us that we are still sinking into the abyss the criminal US occupation of Iraq has led to.

May his soul rest in piece, and the souls of the many innocent thousands dying every month in Mosul by ISIS and the Coalition without accountability nor remorse.”

The battle for Mosul, an Isis stronghold in northern Iraq, has raged on for months. In the last four months alone, an estimated 145,000 people have been displaced and the vast majority of them are in need of major humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

Civilians have been caught in the crossfire between Iraqi ground troops and Isis militants. The latter also shoot at anyone leaving the city without their authorisation. Militias allied to Iraqi regular forces have been accused of sectarian atrocities. But by far the biggest cause of civilian fatalities is Coalition air strikes, which UK forces are also involved in. Some of these, it is alleged, have deliberately targeted hospital and educational establishments.

What’s not in doubt is the huge increase in bombardments killing civilians since the start of 2017. The website Airwars attempts to record all reported instances of these strikes. It also comments on the degree to which each has been independently corroborated. Just to give a flavour of the level of bombardment, I will quote from their reports for the first twelve days of this year:

January 2nd: Mosul: Four women were killed and 8 injured by Coalition strikes, according to local reports.

January 3rd: As many as 22 civilians were reported killed, and 29 injured, in air strikes by an unspecified party in eastern Mosul according to local media. Yaqein reported that one civilian was killed and 11 injured in the Noor neighbourhood of eastern Mosul.

January 4th: Press and local sources said that 16 displaced civilians were killed or injured, mostly children and women, after Coalition warplanes targeted their houses in 17 July neighbourhood, at the right side of Mosul. A local sources said that a named civilian, Imad Ahmed, was killed in raids on Farms district, north of Mosul.

January 5th: Five members of the same family were killed when a Coalition air strike hit a house, according to local sources. Multiple reports referenced dead and wounded Iraqi troops killed in a friendly fire incident by Coalition strikes. Local sources told Mosul Ateka that 26 civilians from 4 families were killed when their home was bombed by Coalition strikes. Fourteen people including women and children were killed, and 15 wounded by Coalition strikes in the Garage and Fatih areas, according to local reports. Local sources said two named civilians (a father and son) were killed after a missile targeted their house in the left side of Mosul.

January 6th: Local sources and relatives of victims said that more than 20 civilians from three families were killed, including children and women, after Coalition air strikes targeted their houses in front of Saddam mosque at the entrance of Farms district, north of Mosul. Local sources said that a family of three children and their grandmother were killed after their house was hit by a missile during raids in the Agricultural residential neighbourhood in central Mosul area, which is still under ISIL control. Local sources said civilians were killed and injured after Coalition Apache helicopters targeted a market in Sumer neighbourhood, southeast of Mosul, with machine guns.

January 7th: Five civilians were reported killed, including 3 children and 2 women in raids in West Mosul. Local and medical sources said that 15-27 civilians were killed and many others injured and children displaced, in an alleged Coalition air strike. Local and medical sources said that 12 civilians were killed and many others injured, mostly displaced women and children, in the locality of Ibn al-Haytham area of Mosul due to Coalition air strikes southeast of Mosul.

January 8th: One civilian was reported killed in alleged Coalition air strikes that targeted an ISIL member in a civilian vehicle, in Hadbah neighbourhood in the northeast of Mosul. Local reports say that the streets in eastern Mosul were covered by the bodies of dozens of civilians – their deaths caused by Coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery. Local reports indicated that shelling struck civilian homes in Sukkar, Talla and Mufthana neighbourhoods in eastern Mosul, “resulting in the burying of dozens of civilians under the rubble,” according to an account in a report by Iraqi Spring Media Centre. Local sources and relatives of victims said that Coalition air strikes targeted a family house in Muthanna neighborhood northeast of Mosul.

January 10th: Local sources reported that the Coalition targeted Hadbah neighbourhood, northeast of Mosul, with three raids.

January 11th: Local sources said Coalition air strikes and artillery shelling targeted Hadbah neighbourhood northeast of Mosul , killing dozens of civilians. Local sources reported that Coalition air strikes bombed a house with three missiles in Second Ka’afat neighborhood, northeast of Mosul. Local sources reported that Coalition air strikes bombed a house in Maliah neighbourhood, at the left side of Mosul during an operation to retake it. Up to 17 civilians were killed and five others injured, mostly women and children from the same family who were inside the house at the time of the strike.

January 12th: Local sources reported that the international Coalition and/or US aircraft had carried out air strikes in New Mosul neighbourhood, at the right side of Mosul, leaving up to 30 civilians dead and 14 others wounded.

To emphasise, these are the strikes reported in a period of just twelve days. Yet, sources in Iraq suggest this may be a severe underestimate of the true numbers of civilian fatalities which could be around 10,000.

Yet, with very few exceptions, none of this has been repeated in western media, a failure of historic proportions, which helps conceal this humanitarian tragedy. At the end of 2016, Parliament voted that UK forces should take part in these bombardments – how many civilian casualties have our troops been responsible for? Why is there no outrage at this killing from the skies that western powers are inflicting on the same country they invaded 14 years ago, before Isis – the creation of their own interference – existed? Activists should lobby their MPs and demand some answers from the Government about its involvement in this carnage, which can only increase the likelihood of more terrorist attacks on British soil.


  1. John Penney says:

    What is the purpose of this disgraceful , Daesh-assisting , article ?

    It is undoubtedly true that it was the US-led invasion of Iraq ( and the overthrow of the murderous Baathist/Sunni dictatorship regime of Saddaam Hussein that created the power vacuum which has destabilised the entire region, and eventually led to the emergence of the , Sunni-based clerico fascist theocratic warlordist DAESH cult as a major force .

    But we are where we are, and the clerico fascist mass murderers and women enslavers of Daesh are occupying the Iraqi city of Mosula a major base of operations. Yes, the Iraqi regime is a Shia dominated sectarian government, but are you suggesting that Daesh doesn’t have to be fought and destroyed across the Middle East, by everyone wo doesn’t wish to live under a murderous totalitarian theocracy ?

    Street fighting against a fanatical , death-worshipping foe like Daesh, is the most destructive type of warfare – always with large civilian casualties. Just look at Europe in WWII and the destruction of innumerable French towns and cities required to drive the Nazis out of France. Should the Allies NOT have progressed onwards from D-Day to liberate Europe, because the Nazis were prepared to dig in with fanatical determination, amongst the hostage civilians of Occupied Europe ?

    The entire, highly selective, uncritical content of your dire article is simply serving as a “useful fools” cover for the barbarism off Daesh, by focussing entirely on the undoubted huge ” civilian collateral damage” resulting from winkling Daesh out , house by house, from its Mosul stronghold.

    This article is simply providing aid and comfort to the clerico fascists of Daesh, under cover of a crudely simplistic anti Americanism, devoid of analysis. How many Mosul residents have Daesh executed and tortured and enslaved over their period of occupation ? Undoubtedly many thousands. Of this , Mike Phipps has nothing to say at all !

  2. John Penney says:

    And in addition, readers need to know that far from being a “civilian area” Mosul University has been turned into a Daesh fortress, admin centre, barracks, and torture centre, since its occupation of that city. It is therefore a quite obvious , indeed legitimate, military target, even if Daesh has kept some civilians in situ as human shields.

    However , ALL claims (for instance, via mysterious “EMAILS” to Mike Phipps) originating from Daesh occupied Mosul about “civilian casualties” , need to be treated as Daesh propaganda, not serious information.

  3. John Penney says:

    I thought this guff seemed remarkably familiar ! It is in fact essentially a repeat of an earlier, Mike Phipps Left Futures article , of 25th March 2016, entitled ” Mosul – Did the US deliberately bomb civilians ?”

    In this article Phipps covers all the usual one-sided anti US /Iraqi government tropes, including this very similar tale :

    “Reports suggest that Mosul University’s targeting by US warplanes inflicted significant civilian casualties. One source, whom I prefer to keep anonymous as she is still based in Iraq, said the University’s engineering college, science college, part of the agriculture college and vocational school had been struck, as well as the faculty members’ residential building.

    Unlike the usual night-time bombardments, the air strike on Mosul University appears to have been carried out in broad daylight at a time when the campus was most crowded. Around 50 deaths, including women and children are reported, and more than double that number injured.”

    The only conclusion is that, wittingly or unwittingly, Phipps is serving as an arm of Daesh propaganda – trying to get Western liberals to demand that the current , soon to be successful, recapture of Mosul , is called off because of civilian casualties (casualties entirely due to Daesh surrounding themselves with civilian hostages).

  4. Mike Phipps says:

    Penney’s cold contempt for civilain life is a new low even for him. Even the word “killing” eludes him: it must be translated into the anodyne propaganda of “collateral damage”.
    I need no lessons about the barbarity of Daesh from him. I refer readers to the Iraq Occupation Newsletter – subscribe here, extracts here, which I co-edit, which regularly reports the atrocities against civilians by Daesh. I would also refer readers to a far more authoratative source about these issues, Patrick Cockburn, who has written a thoughtful piece in the London Review of Books about how events in Iraq and Syria are reported.

  5. Bazza says:

    We all know so-called IS are barbarians and perhaps on reflection it may have helped Mike’s case if had started by focussing on some of so-called IS’s horrors in the area but I think Mike is pointing out that the West needs to also follow the rules of war strictly as civilised nations.
    I think it is more likely the US are Gung Ho rather than deliberate acts.
    While defeating so called IS we also need to hold our own Govt to account (as in its role in the Yemen) and for example the first UK bombing in Syria was of oil refineries and petrol pumping stations (the question is were these occupied at the time by workers and probably trade unionists? And if so-called-IS comes to town you probably have little say in the matter) but if the establishments were occupied and by non-combatants then Michael Fallon (if he made the decision) should resign; and of course 66 Labour MPs should hang their heads in shame.
    I stand by the working people of the world as well as the rules of war.

  6. David Pavett says:

    I think that John Penny is right. I found this article extremely one-sided. It is written, in effect, as if from a pacifist perspective. In the middle of intense fighting that seems to me to be at the very least unhelpful and even highly misleading.

    We all know that war is terrible and that the innocent often suffer the consequences. However simply reporting a war from the angle of the civilian suffering as the results of the action of one side is bound to present a distorted picture.

    Not only that but the quality of the reports relied on is, at least in some cases weak. I started checking the reports for January quoted by Mike Phipps and soon gave up because it was pointless. For example a report for 4th of January claimed that a coalition bombing raid specifically targeted children.

    Iraqi Spring Media Center reported that the women were killed and injured by Coalition strikes that hit a home in Haramat in eastern Mosul. ISIL-controlled Al A’amaq Media posted a video of the aftermath, and interviewed witnesses who said that children were targeted.

    The evidence was from three Arabic news media in Arabic and one ISIS controlled source. I don’t have the time (or the ability) to wade through stuff like that.

    The claim that the raids are not being reported by the media also needs to be qualified carefully. Papers have any serious foreign news reporting have reported civilian deaths as a result of US-led bombing raids and even casualties as a result of a hit on a hospital (both in January). Also no one reading the news could be in any doubt about the massive population movements to flee the horrors of the war.

    There might be a purpose to making a critique of the effectiveness of the bombing strategy given the objective of ending Daesh control. But that is not what Mike Phipps offers. Instead he gives us a long passage telling of the human qualities of those who have died as a result of US-led bombing and then gives a list of local reports of further civilian casualties which, in the nature of things, are not likely to have high reliability.

    Mike Phipps asks why their is no outrage at the role of the UK in carrying out actions that result in civilian casualties. This question would only make sense of we knew what his overall position is on the conflict. Does he think that Daesh should be removed by military means? Does he think that a battle to remove Daesh from Mosul is wrong? If he is opposed to any military action he should say so. If he concedes that military action is required then he should indicate the lines on which it should proceed while recognising that, while ever effort should be made to avoid them, civilian deaths are inevitable.

    Instead what we get is an account of the personal tragedy of loss resulting from US-led air strikes and an uncorroborated list of reports of civilian casualties also resulting from those air strikes.

    I think that this is a highly tendentious way to report a war and that such tendentiousness does nothing to demonstrate that the left can discuss military matters rationally and objectively. Being horrified by the results of war is one thing, we all feel it. But this is not enough unless we adopt a pacifist position which in reality very few of us want to do.

  7. Mike Phipps says:

    Well, this is disappointing, David, on a number of counts. Firstly, I’m not sure if we do all know how terrible war is. I’ve got a pretty clear idea of how terrible it is because I’ve spent the last ten years of my life detailing the atrocities perpetrated against civilians in Iraq. Take the trouble to read the Iraq Occupation Focus Newsletter, whose links I gave in an earlier post and you’ll see that the reportage of this has been quite balanced.
    But civilian fatalities are not just a by-product of war. It has been estimated that 100 years ago one civilian was killed for every ten combatants in war. Today the ratio has been reversed. This is not an accident. It is because aerial bombardment is now the preferred method of war pursued by the US because it results in fewer inconvenient casualties on its side even if it maximises civilian fatalities on the other side. This needs highlighting. Do not pretend to yourself that this is a necessary by-product of the war on Daesh. It is a deliberate policy. It is wrong and it needs highlighting.
    I don’t feel under obligation to offer a detailed military strategy for the removal of Daesh, an organisation that was the product of previous atrocities committed in Iraq by the US-led coalition. I do feel under some obligation, however, but not from contributors to this blog, to speak out against continued atrocities paid for by my taxes and executed by a coalition that includes my government.
    I just received an email from Dirk Adriaensens, who is Coordinator of SOS iraq and a member of the Executive Committee of the International BRussels Tribunal on Iraq. I quote below, but the gist of his argument is that the Airwars reports I have quoted significantly underestimate the civilian fatalities inflicted by coalition bombardment. This is the view of Iraq Body Count, a widely respected organisation – follow the links in the email below:
    “I analyzed the database of Iraqbodycount for an article I wrote for an online newssite of the Belgian progressive community:
    The “estimation” of Airwars, however, is much lower than the numbers of Iraqbodycount. It appears that between 27 December 2016 and 21 January 21 2017, an overwhelming majority of the fatalities in the offensive against Mosul was caused by air strikes:
    Airstrikes 450
    IED: 43
    Execution: 61
    Car bomb – suicide bomber: 39
    Gunfire 3 :
    Shelling – Mortar: 87
    Sniper: 1

    And these are the figures as compiled by Joel Wing:
    “There have been over 20,000 casualties since the start of the Mosul battle in October. Based on tracking reports in more than 40 papers per day including aid agencies there have 4,923 fatalities and 15,903 wounded. Civilians have been the biggest victims with 4,470 dead and 14,762 injured. Another 277 members of the ISF, 102 Hashd, 70 Peshmerga, 2 Kurdish Counterterrorism members, 1 Hashd al-Watani and 1 U.S. sailors have been reported killed, and 824 ISF, 253 Peshmerga, 59 Hashd, and 5 Hashd al-Watani wounded. The Islamic State has been accused of executing 2,749 civilians. Another 497 dead and 643 injured were blamed on Coalition Air Strikes.
    Battle for Mosul Casualties Oct 17, 2016-Jan 14, 2017
    4,923 Killed
    1 U.S. Sailor, 1 Hashd al-Watani, 2 Kurd CT, 70 Peshmerga, 102 Hashd, 277 ISF, 4,470 Civilians
    15,903 wounded
    5 Hashd al-Watani, 59 Hashd, 253 Peshmerga, 824 ISF, 14,762 Civilians”

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