Civilian victims in Iraq, Syria strikes expose UK lie of ‘perfect war’

March 24, 2023

Source: The Guardian/Airwars

By Al Mayadeen English 

Britain claims no civilians died in its brutal strikes on alleged ISIS posts in Iraq and Syria, meanwhile, an investigation proves otherwise.

Smoke billows following a coalition airstrike in Raqqa in September 2017. (AFP)

The 2016–17 British airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq were the subject of an investigation by The Guardian in collaboration with nonprofit watchdog Airwars. Despite long-standing assurances by the British government and military that British weaponry did not hurt a single non-combatant there, the research has uncovered that numerous airstrikes that killed civilians during the campaign are likely connected to UK forces.

The UK government has long maintained that it waged a “perfect” war in Iraq against ISIS in order to safeguard Iraqis. Yet, allies in the US-led coalition, including Washington, have acknowledged that the UK forces killed hundreds of people there in the years following 2014.

Horrors  from UK attacks haunt Iraqis

Six strikes that appeared to have been carried out by British forces in 2016 and 2017 in the Iraqi city of Mosul resulted in the deaths of civilians, as per the Guardian investigation.

For the first time, victims of two British attacks have revealed the horrors that the missile attacks caused to their families, including the deaths and injuries of children, parents, brothers, and sisters.

As a missile exploded close to them in a Mosul street, one survivor lost her oldest daughter. Her two legs had to be amputated. Her son, who was only a toddler at the time, lost a foot and a hand, while her other daughter still has shrapnel lodged in her skull. The majority of another woman’s immediate family, including her mother, father, two brothers, and two nephews, were killed by a brutal UK airstrike that turned her home into a crater.

The US-led coalition has acknowledged that both airstrikes resulted in civilian deaths, but it has not said which nation was responsible for the attacks. The coalition acknowledges that 26 civilians were killed in all during the six strikes in Mosul that The Guardian and Airwars determined were likely British attacks.

Read next: Job of US Marine corps was killing people: Iraq War veterans speak up

The UK Ministry of Defense refused to confirm or deny that its troops carried out the precise strikes and vowed that they did not damage or kill any people while operating in Iraq. A spokesperson shamelessly claimed that “there is no proof or suggestion that strikes in Syria and Iraq resulted in civilian casualties.” 

“The UK always minimizes the risk of civilian casualties through our rigorous processes and carefully examines a range of evidence to do this, including a comprehensive analysis of the mission data for every strike,” the spokesperson added.

The inquiry is probably going to put further pressure on the British government because of its shady procedures for calculating civilian casualties.

The UK did not take sufficient measures to identify those killed and injured civilians, according to the 2016 Chilcot report on the UK’s participation in the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.

It stated that “a government has a responsibility to make every reasonable effort to understand the likely and actual effects of its military actions on civilians.”

Unfortunately, the UK did not act more transparently throughout the next British campaign in Iraq. Despite demands from parliamentarians, the government has refused to explain anything, not even how it evaluates claimed casualties.

Not only Iraqis, the UK killed Syrian civilians too

43 airstrikes that resulted in civilian casualties were unearthed during the investigation, and the evidence suggested that the British were involved. Eight strikes were chosen from a shortlist after further consideration of information like target kinds, munitions, and particular locations. After that, The Guardian and Airwars went to Mosul to search for survivors.

Greg Bagwell, a retired air marshal, said as quoted by the Guardian that Britain had some of the best systems in the world to protect civilians, but the current position that the UK had made no targeting errors was “a stretch”.

“If we were saying we were 90% better than everyone else [at protecting civilians], that might be a credible argument. When you keep saying the number is zero and therefore we’re 100% perfect, it clearly becomes hard to sell that,” he claimed.

In 2014, the UK resumed bombing Iraq as part of the coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve campaign allegedly against ISIS. A year later, airstrikes in Syria started. It dropped almost 4,000 munitions in the two nations between 2014 and 2020. The British military claimed that these attacks resulted in the deaths of 3,052 insurgents in Iraq without a single civilian being harmed. The UK claims one civilian and 1,017 fighters were killed in Syria.

In 2018, a senior coalition source affirmed as cited by the BBC that British officials had been informed multiple times their strikes may have killed civilians and that “to suggest they have not…is nonsense.”

The Guardian and Airwars combed through public statements and data from both sides of the Atlantic to determine which murders may have been brought on by British airstrikes, including 1,300 coalition documents that detail specific cases of civilian casualties and were made available by the US military in December 2021 in response to a freedom of information request from The New York Times.

The dates and locations of all attacks in which the UK military claimed it killed or injured ISIS fighters were made available to Airwars after freedom of information requests, and these were cross-referenced against routine Ministry of Defense bulletins on strikes. 

The investigation has unmasked people whose lives were shattered by British airstrikes in Mosul. Such tragic revelations question the UK’s assertions that it waged a “perfect” battle in Iraq against ISIS and emphasizes the necessity of transparency in calculating civilian casualties in conflict areas. Even if Britain ultimately admits guilt for the murders, survivors are unlikely to be able to file a claim for compensation. Any claim for damages must be made within six years of the law’s passage in 2021; this time frame has already expired.

The UK is still engaged militarily in Syria and Iraq, and the level of secrecy surrounding its mission has not changed. At Al-Bab, northern Syria, the UK recently conducted an airstrike. Almost immediately following the incident, local media reported charges of civilian injury, with at least two individuals apparently injured. In January, Airwars informed an MoD officer about this incident, and since then, it has been looking for a formal way to make such claims. 

Read more: UK Acknowledges War Crimes in Iraq, Does Not Take Action

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