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The human cost of defeating IS is being ignored Open in fullscreen

Nazli Ihsan-Adil Tarzi

The human cost of defeating IS is being ignored

Civilians are being ignored in the midst of triumphalist narratives [AFP]

Date of publication: 11 December, 2016

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Civilian casualties killed at the hands of the international coalition and government forces in Iraq are being ignored in favour of a victory-against-IS at all costs narrative, argues Nazli Tarzi.
While the world watches idly, events in Iraq are becoming bloodier by the day. On Thursday US aircraft struck one of Mosul’s central hospitals, one day after three separate bombings carried out by Iraqi aircrafts on the town of Qaim, killed an estimated 82 non-combatants.

Just two months earlier, a strike by coalition forces on a clinic south of Mosul, killed eight civilians and injured two others.

Enormous suffering has been sparked by recent military operations in Iraq, but the consequences for civilians are particularly harrowing.The days of maintaining as nearly normal a life as possible under IS terrorists are over.

Families dislodged from their towns either make from the desert a home, or pay the cost of war with their own lives.

"To escape the shelling, many civilians have had nowhere else to turn to than the desert," political activist Qassim Al Karbouli told The New Arab. Iraq’s western deserts "are particularly famous for their unforgiving winter climate," he added.

Yet incidents in the last week and the lives that have consequently vanished have stirred little more than fleeting coverage. Much interest is cast over military advances, gains and losses, but less concern has been voiced on role of the Iraqi state in protecting lives at grave risk.

Much interest is cast over military advances, gains and losses, but less concern has been voiced on role of the Iraqi state in protecting lives at grave risk

Narratives of deflection

More energies have been invested in the production of accounts that allows the government to distance itself from responsibility and accountability, meanwhile.

Hours after news of the massacre in Qaim began trending on Arabic social media pages, a statement from Iraq’s joint military command held that events in Qaim had been ‘fabricated’ by the terrorists that control the border town.

A former resident of Qaim, Mustafa Turki, described the incident as “an act of indiscriminate bombings in the centre of a busy market”. “Iraqi jets struck an office that distributes pension allowances for the retired, close to the Grand Mosque, an area known for its commercial activity and population density”, Turki added.

The incident drew sharp criticism from parliament speaker Saleem Al Jabouri, whose office called on the government to “open an immediate inquiry” to determine the true course of events, and to prevent anything similar from being repeated.

As Jabouri lands himself back in the limelight, his words, as previously shown, carry no weight on the decisions adopted by the central government that Jabouri forms a part of.

Liberation, however, becomes the excuse deployed to justify indiscriminate attacks on densely populated civilian centres

Question marks

Jabouri’s calls were echoed also by Mohammad Karbouli, a member of parliament in Anbar province. As reported by Aljazeera, Karbouli stated that the Qaim attack “places huge question marks over the accuracy of the intelligence information that coalition forces rely upon in achieving their goals”.

Deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, Lama Fakih has previously urged “forces attacking IS … to take all necessary measures to minimise harm to civilians, including those that IS forces may have placed at risk”.

The Iraqi government has done well to communicate the language of ‘protection’ for civilians whose towns remain occupied by IS. What has not happened is the ‘protection’ itself. The narrative of ‘protection’ relies upon the need to defeat an enemy, which calls for liberation, through any means necessary.

Liberation, however, becomes the excuse deployed to justify indiscriminate attacks on densely populated civilian centres.

This was the line peddled by Adnan Al Sarraj, member of the state of law coalition, who in a recent interview with Aljazeera conceded that “yes, mistakes do happen, but they are not intentional”.

But not only do these accounts undermine the dead, they also divert attention from looking at where the government has done wrong.

In a telephone interview, Omar Farhan from the Amman based Iraqi war crimes documentation centre spoke of three different positions that were blasted.

“There was the Qawazi building surrounding by commercial shops and some houses, then there was the Nheira building and the souq opposite the grand mosque. Each location is separated by 90 or less meters, and are dotted along the central commercial strip”.

Farhan added that a total of 6 families has been bombed out of existence, while the death count continues to rise steadily”.

Under the Geneva convention, targets must strictly be military combatants, the question therefore is how can precision bombing go so wrong. The Iraqi state and its coalition partners have much to answer for in light of the loss of innocent lives in not only Qaim, but also Mosul, Fallujah, Diyala and wherever else there has been liberation operations.

Nazli Tarzi is a freelance British-Iraqi journalist, specialising in Middle East politics, with a particular interest in Iraqi affairs. Follow her on Twitter @NazliTarzi

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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