The carnage continues. And appears to be growing.
With the war that President George W. Bush started and that President Barack Obama failed to end now in the hands of President Donald Trump, global outrage and condemnation was expressed over the weekend as details emerged over a U.S. bombing in Iraq that may have killed 200 or more innocent civilians, many of them children and families seeking shelter.
The aerial attack on homes and buildings in the city of Mosul, where Iraqi and U.S. coalition forces have been battling Islamic State (ISIS) forces for months, actually took on March 17 but as evidence of the destruction and deathtoll emerged, the Guardian reported Saturday it may turn out to be “one of the deadliest bombing raids for civilians since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.”
As the Iraqi News reported, the “Kurdish network Rudaw said 230 people died when three civilian-owned homes sustained an aerial bombardment in Mosul al-Jadida district, another area retaken by Iraqi forces. Victims were mostly women and children, according to the agency.”
According to the New York Times, an Iraqi special forces officer, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said there has “been a noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since President Trump took office.”
Chris Woods, director of monitoring group Airwars, told the newspaper that the al-Jadida bombing resulted in the “worst toll of a single [airstrike] incident that I can recall in decades. The coalition’s argument that it doesn’t target noncombatants risks being devalued when so many civilians are being killed in west Mosul.”
Foreign correspondent Martin Chulov, reported for the Guardian on the horrifying scene in which dozens of victims, including many women and children, died a slow and painful death trapped beneath rubble created by the bombing:
By the time rescuers finally arrived no one was left alive. For almost a week desperate neighbours had scraped through the rubble, searching for as many as 150 people who lay buried after three homes in a west Mosul suburb were destroyed by coalition airstrikes.
The full picture of the carnage continued to emerge on Friday, when at least 20 bodies were recovered. Dozens more are thought to remain buried in what could turn out to be the single most deadly incident for civilians in the war against Islamic State (Isis).
Rescuers at the scene in the suburb of Mosul Jadida said they had driven the 250 miles from Baghdad but had not been able to enter the area until Wednesday, five days after airstrikes hit the houses where local residents had been sheltering from fierce fighting between Iraqi forces and Isis.
Neighbours said at least 80 bodies had been recovered from one house alone, where people had been encouraged by local elders to take shelter. Rescuers were continuing to dig through the ruins, and the remains of two other houses nearby, which had also been pulverised in attacks that were described as “relentless and horrifying.”
On the same day Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said she was “stunned by this terrible loss of life,” the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) on Saturday confirmed that it had carried out bombing raids on March 17, citing a request by Iraqi forces, near the location in Mosul where the civilian deaths were later reported.
Grande added that “nothing in this conflict is more important than protecting civilians,” and said all parties to the conflict “are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians.”
CENTCOM issued a statement saying it was now investigating the reports, but would not accept any responsibility for the loss of life. The U.S. military, the statement said, “takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and a formal Civilian Casualty Credibility Assessment has been opened to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties.”
Also writing for the Guardian on Saturday, Simon Tisdall notes the number of civilian casualties, not only in Iraq but also in Syria, have seen a sharp uptick since President Trump took over the so-called “war on terror” in January. Indeed, as Samual Oakford reported recently at Airwars, “Recent evidence indicates that in both [Iraq and Syria], civilian casualties rose during the last months of the Obama administration and are now accelerating further under the presidency of Donald Trump – suggesting possible key changes in U.S. rules of engagement which are placing civilians at greater risk.”
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 49 people were killed on 16 March by a U.S. strike on a complex that included the Omar ibn al-Khattab mosque.
Last Tuesday at least 30 Syrian civilians died in another American airstrike, on Mansoura, in Raqqa province. The American planes hit a school. The raid was one of 19 coalition missions that day, ordered in preparation for the expected assault on the Isis headquarters in Raqqa city itself.
This dovetails with Oakford’s worrying assessment, in which he explained:
In late January President Trump requested a new plan from the US military to tackle ISIL, in which he called for “recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement and other United States policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of International law regarding the use of force against ISIS.”
During his campaign for the presidency, Trump went further, explicitly threatening to target the families of ISIL fighters. “They are using them as shields,” he said in November 2015. “But we are fighting a very politically correct war. And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.”
In short, Trump has been demanding that the US military consider dropping many of the restrictions which help protect civilian lives on the battlefield. His January request could open the door for US military planners to prepare attacks that may be expected to – and indeed do – kill more civilians.
As rescue crews continued to clear bodies from the rubble on Saturday and Sunday, Iraqi military forces said they were postponing operations in the area.
“The recent high death toll among civilians inside the Old City forced us to halt operations to review our plans,” a spokesperson for the Iraqi Federal Police told Reuters on Saturday. “It’s a time for weighing new offensive plans and tactics. No combat operations are to go on.”
Writing for The Intercept on Sunday, journalist Glenn Greenwald said Trump’s execution of America’s overseas military operations appear to be as “barbaric and savage” in practice as he promised they would be when he was on the campaign trail.
“From the start of his presidency, Donald Trump’s ‘war on terror’ has entailed the seemingly indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people in the name of killing terrorists,” writes Greenwald. “In other words, Trump has escalated the 16-year-old core premise of America’s foreign policy — that it has the right to bomb any country in the world where people it regards as terrorists are found — and in doing so, has fulfilled the warped campaign pledges he repeatedly expressed.”
Greenwald notes that with civilians death already monstrously high under both Bush and Obama, the deathtoll has “increased precipitously during the first two months of the Trump administration.”
And, he concludes, “what Trump’s actions are not is a departure from what he said he would do, nor are they inconsistent with the predictions of those who described his foreign policy approach as non-interventionist. To the contrary, the dark savagery guiding U.S. military conduct in that region is precisely what Trump expressly promised his supporters he would usher in.”
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