Dozens of Civilians Killed in US, Coalition Airstrikes in Syria and Iraq
Dozens of innocent civilians have been killed in US-led coalition and Iraqi government bombings targeting Islamic State fighters and infrastructure in Syria and Iraq over the weekend.
American and coalition warplanes conducted 16 weekend airstrikes against key IS buildings and transportation infrastructure in Raqqa, the militant Islamist group’s de facto capital in eastern Syria, the Associated Press reports.
The strikes, which were among the most ferocious of the nearly year-long US-led air campaign against IS, shook the city and created panic among residents. Agence France-Press reports at least 30 people, including six civilians, were killed in attacks.
That civilian casualty figure comes from Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a London-based group opposed to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and is supported by photos posted on an IS-affiliated militant group’s website. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, an anti-IS activist group based in the city, reports eight civilians, including a 10-year-old child, were killed in the US-led bombardment.
The US military said coalition aircraft carried out 18 strikes in Raqqa.
“The significant airstrikes tonight were executed to deny Daesh the ability to move military capabilities throughout Syria and into Iraq,” Lt. Col. Thomas Gilleran said in a statement, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. Gilleran called the bombings “one of the largest deliberate engagements” in Syria to date, and claimed the strikes “will have debilitating effects on [IS’s] ability to move from Raqqa.”
In neighboring Iraq, where IS also controls large swathes of territory, US-backed government forces conducted a series of strikes that left scores of civilians dead. Al Jazeera reports at least 73 people killed in the western Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Fallujah as government forces stepped up aerial and artillery bombardment of IS positions.
An Iraqi airstrike on a sports field in Ramadi shortly after midnight on Sunday killed at least 50 people and wounded at least 30 others. At least 23 more people were killed, and another 40 wounded, in shelling north of Fallujah. While Iraqi security officials claimed the attacks targeted IS members, hospital officials said most of the dead were civilians. Medical personnel said five women and seven children were among the 23 dead.
Sources in Baghdad told Al Jazeera that Iraqi government forces dropped barrel bombs, a favorite weapon used by Assad’s forces to kill large numbers of civilians in Syria, in Fallujah. Under international law, barrel bombs are banned because of their indiscriminate nature.
In a separate attack being called an accident caused by mechanical failure, a Russian-made Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet piloted by an Iraqi airman bombed the New Baghdad residential neighborhood in the capital, causing 12 civilian casualties.
“One of the bombs became stuck because of a technical problem, and during [the aircraft’s] return to base it fell on three houses in Baghdad Jadida,” Iraqi Gen. Saad Maan said in a statement. Early reports from Iraq suggest that seven civilians were killed in the strike.
IS, as well as Iraqi government forces and allied militias, have been condemned by international human rights groups for their conduct during the war. In February, the United Nations released a report accusing IS of possible genocide, detailing crimes including slaughter of innocent civilians, mass kidnappings, rape, enslavement and trafficking of women and children, forced recruitment of child soldiers, religious persecution, pillaging, and denial of basic human freedoms.
“Many of the violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIL may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide,” the UN report asserted.
Amnesty International has accused the Iraqi government of indiscriminately attacking Ramadi and Fallujah in its bid to regain control of areas lost to IS offensives. Pro-government Shia militias have also been accused of grave abuses against the country’s Sunni minority, including the kidnapping and murder of Sunni civilians in retribution for the actions of IS.
Fallujah has suffered tremendously since the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq began in 2003. The city was devastated during two separate battles for control fought there between American and Iraqi resistance forces in 2004. Hundreds of civilians were killed, and US forces were accused of deliberately and indiscriminately killing innocent civilians. As many as half of all babies born in Fallujah in the years following the fighting were afflicted with birth defects, a shocking development blamed on exposure to toxic metals, including depleted uranium, lead and mercury, used in US weaponry.
The weekend strikes came as IS released a video showing children recruited into the group executing 25 Syrian government troops in the Roman amphitheater in the ancient city of Palmyra.
More than 230,000 Syrians have been killed since protests against the Assad regime erupted in March 2011, sparking a civil war in which government and pro-regime forces have fought jihadist and other rebel groups for control of the country.