In one of the deadliest strikes in Iraq in years, hundreds of civilians have been killed by airstrikes in Mosul after following Iraqi government advice to stay put. Survivors of the attack in East Mosul said they did not try to flee as they received repeated instructions from the Iraqi authorities to remain in their homes.
On 17 March, up to 150 people were reported killed in a coalition airstrike in the Jadida neighbourhood of West Mosul during the offensive to recapture the city from the armed group Islamic State (IS)
Wa’ad Ahmad al-Tai, a resident of the al-Zahra neighbourhood of East Mosul, was among many civilians who followed Iraqi government advice to stay put.
“According to the instructions, residents who had nothing to do with Daesh [IS, in Arabic] should stay in their homes… We heard these instructions on the radio… Also leaflets were dropped by planes. This is why we stayed in our homes,” he said.
As the fighting intensified, Wa’ad Ahmad al-Tai, his brother Mahmoud and their families sought shelter at their other brother’s two-storey home, hoping it would offer them more protection.
“We were all huddled in one room at the back of the house – 18 of us, three families. But when the house next door was bombed, it collapsed on us, precisely over the room we were sheltering in.
“My son Yusef, nine, and my daughter Shahad, three, were killed, together with my brother Mahmoud, his wife Manaya and their nine-year-old son Aws, and my niece Hanan. She was cradling her five-month-old daughter, who survived, thank God,” he said.
“My son Yusef, nine, and my daughter Shahad, three, were killed, together with my brother Mahmoud… and my niece Hanan. She was cradling her five-month-old daughter, who survived, thank God”
Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, who carried out field investigations in Mosul, said:
“Evidence gathered on the ground in East Mosul points to an alarming pattern of US-led coalition airstrikes, which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside.
“The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”
Five family members killed, fighters unharmed
The shocking spike in civilian casualties from both US-led coalition airstrikes and ground fighting between the Iraqi military and IS fighters in recent months has raised serious questions about the lawfulness of these attacks.
In one case, five members of one family and their neighbour were killed and several others injured when three houses in the Hay al-Salam district of East Mosul were destroyed by coalition strikes on 5 January. Survivors and neighbours told Amnesty International that IS fighters were present in a room inside the house, but were unharmed by the strike. The IS fighters were later killed by Iraqi forces who eventually reached the house.
“My son was killed and the rest of us were injured. My daughter Bara lost an eye. But the Dawa’ish were still alive”
Na’el Tawfiq AbdelHafez, whose 23-year-old son Mos’ab was killed in the strike, said that for months before the attack they were surrounded by fighting, with IS snipers on rooftops firing and Iraqi soldiers firing mortars into the neighbourhood.
“There was nothing we could do, we are civilians; we could not stop Daesh. When they entered my home, shortly before the strike, I tried to challenge them, to plead with them; I told them ‘what are you doing, I have a family here’. They left but as they were leaving, the house was bombed. My son was killed and the rest of us were injured. My daughter Bara lost an eye. But the Dawa’ish were still alive.”
Donatella says it’s vital that all parties to the conflict refrain from the use of mortars and other imprecise explosive weapons in the densely populated neighbourhoods of Mosul.
“The civilian population has borne the brunt of the battle to recapture Mosul, with all sides displaying a chilling indifference to the devastating suffering caused to the city’s civilians,” she said.