Thousands of civilian deaths left unassessed in Iraq and Syria


Airwars says US-led coalition may have killed nearly 10,000 civilians in four years - the coalition has accounted for 841

Smoke billows from an air attack target in Mosul in July 2017 AFP)
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Last update: 
Wednesday 28 February 2018 12:39 UTC

Estimates for the number of civilian deaths in the bombing campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq could be more than seven times higher than that given by the US-led anti-IS coalition, according to a monitoring group.

Investigations carried out by Airwars suggest that since August 2014 - when the campaign against IS was launched - until mid-February 2018, the coalition was responsible for between at least 6,137 and 9,444 civilian deaths.

So far, the coalition has admitted to only 841 "unintentional" civilian deaths, a figure Airwars attributes to the group's failure to investigate more than half of 2,400 "events" referenced in relation to civilian casualties.

"One significant reason for the gulf in numbers is that half of all allegations…have yet to be assessed by the coalition," said Chris Woods, the head of Airwars, to Euronews.

He added that, as an example, the coalition would usually not count secondary deaths - such as those caused by a collapsed building - in their figures.

Official coalition figures say it conducted 29,070 strikes between August 2014 and January 2018, with around 287 strikes conducted in January.

The coalition has denied the claims made by Airwars, saying its methods are unreliable.

Writing in Foreign Policy in September, former Operation Inherent Resolve chief Stephen Townsend said Airwars based their findings on "unsubstantiated allegations".

"Assertions by Airwars, along with claims by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and media outlets that cite them, are often unsupported by fact and serve only to strengthen the Islamic State’s hold on civilians, placing civilians at greater risk," he wrote.

"We conduct a detailed assessment of each and every allegation of possible civilian casualties. We hold ourselves accountable with an open and transparent process to assess allegations of civilian casualties, and we publish these findings on a monthly basis for the world to see."

The UK-based Syrian observatory accounted for 2,775 Syrian civilians killed by coalition bombing between 2014 and December 2017.

Middle East Eye revealed on Monday that the UK had spent at least $2.5bn on its air campaign against IS.

Critics pointed out that the figures reveal the UK had therefore spent more on high-tech smart bombs and missiles than it had spent on humanitarian assistance in Iraq in the same period.

"These figures point to an overwhelming amount of spending on drone strikes, equalling less being spent on the rehabilitation of Iraq and Syria," Fabian Hamilton MP, shadow minister for peace, told MEE.

"The government has not adequately planned for the aftermath of these conflicts and is continuing to spend billions on conflicts overseas while cutting funds for our armed forces."