Amnesty International report At any Cost

The battle for west Mosul between Islamic State (IS) and Iraqi troops and members of the US-led coalition in the period 2016-2017 has caused a civilian catastrophe. This report covers events in west Mosul from January to mid-May 2017. Amnesty International interviewed a total of 151 Mosul residents, as well as medical staff, humanitarian workers, journalists, military experts and UN officials operating in and around the city. Based on its research, Amnesty International concludes both IS and pro-government forces appear to have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, some amounting to war crimes.

In October 2016, IS began rounding up civilians and forced them to move directly into the zone of combat. Civilians were prevented from evacuating through the use of threats, summary killings and homemade bombs, which effectively locked persons into their homes. Not only was IS holding civilians hostages and using them as human shields, it regularly withheld them medical care and food. While this created challenges for Iraqi government forces and members of the US-led coalition in terms of civilian protection, this report demonstrates that pro-government forces have been responsible for carrying out relentless and unlawful attacks. Amnesty International has documented a pattern of attacks in which pro-government forces appear not to have struck their intended military targets, but instead killed and injured civilians and destroyed or damaged civilian objects. Even in attacks that seem to have struck their intended military target, the use of unsuitable weapons or failure to take other necessary precautions resulted in needless loss of civilian lives. Amnesty International contends that, by not adequately adapting their military tactics to the challenges posed by the context of the operation – as required by international humanitarian law – , pro-government forces failed to launch discriminate attacks and to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians. In such a densely populated urban environment, military planners should have taken extra care in targeting and their choice of weapons to ensure that attacks were not unlawful.

The report suggests that Iraqi authorities and member states of the US-led coalition (i) end the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, such as artillery and mortars, in the vicinity of populated civilian areas; (ii) cease the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons, such as IRAMs, which are impossible to precisely target at military objectives or to use lawfully in populated civilian areas; (iii) assume the presence of civilians in every structure when engaging IS fighters, and (iv) engage with coalition partners to share and learn best practices for reducing the likelihood of, and responding to, civilian casualties, including through appropriate training and assistance. Additionally, Amnesty International calls on authorities to publicly acknowledge the scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives during the military operations, and to provide prompt and full reparation to victims and families of victims of violations.