The Iraqi military and its US led coalitions backers have announced what might as well be called a ‘humanitarian pause’ in the battle against ISIS in Mosul.
This came after confirmation that a US air strike on the city on 17th March 2017 killed 150 civilians. This is how the Guardian reports details of the strike and the pause
Iraqi military leaders have ordered a pause in their push to recapture west Mosul from Islamic State as international outrage mounted over a series of airstrikes that killed at least 150 people in one district of the embattled city alone.
Rescuers continued to retrieve bodies from the rubble of the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood on Saturday, more than a week after the coalition attacks, which are believed to have led to one of the highest civilian tolls in the region since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Civil defence workers say they have pulled more than 140 bodies from the ruins of three buildings and believe dozens more remain under the rubble of another, a large home with a once cavernous basement in which up to 100 people had hidden last Friday morning.
Locals at the site said the enormous damage caused to the homes and much of the surrounding area had been caused by airstrikes, which battered the neighbourhood during a pitched battle between Isis members and Iraqi forces.
The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said: “We are stunned by this terrible loss of life.” Chris Woods, the director of the monitoring group Airwars, said: “The al-Jadida incident alone is the worst toll of a single incident that I can recall in decades. I cannot think of a higher toll from a single event.
As the scale of the disaster became apparent, Iraqi military sources confirmed they had been ordered not to launch new operations in east Mosul, echoing a statement from a federal police spokesman that cited concern about civilian casualties as a reason for a pause.
This comes only a few months after Western governments and the Western media engaged in a fiery campaign against Russian bombing during the fighting in eastern Aleppo, with allegations of war crimes against the Russians being banded about together with threats to establish a no-fly zone over the city and stern denunciations of Russian conduct from the pulpit of the UN Security Council.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a website that strongly supports the Syrian opposition and whose reliability some have questioned, puts the total number of civilians killed in eastern Aleppo during the final stages of its liberation from the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis between November and December 2016 as 465 of whom 62 were children. To be clear this is a death toll from all causes, with some people said to have been executed by the Jihadis themselves and by no means all the others caused by the bombing.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also claims that 142 civilians, 42 of them children, were killed as a result of Jihadi shelling in Syrian government controlled western Aleppo during the same period. That is something the Western media – with no reporters in any part of Aleppo during the fighting – has barely reported at all.
To be clear in stating these figures – which some people, given their source will doubtless anyway wish to dispute – I make no false claims and no false charges, whether about Russian bombing in Aleppo or US bombing in Mosul.
Nor do I draw any unwarranted comparisons between the conduct of the two bombing campaigns. The fact that more than 150 civilians are said to have been killed in a single US coalition air strike in Mosul by comparison with a total civilian death toll from all causes in eastern Aleppo during the final month of the fighting there of 465 probably means that the death toll of civilians killed by US bombing in Mosul is higher – possibly much higher – than was the death toll of civilians killed by Russian bombing last year in eastern Aleppo. However Mosul is a much bigger city than was easrern Aleppo and the areas of Mosul still controlled by ISIS appear to be far more densely populated than were the Jihadi controlled areas of eastern Aleppo, so it is not surprising that the death toll in Mosul is higher.
For the record, I do not believe that the US-led coalition deliberately targets civilians or civilian targets in Mosul, any more than I believe the Russian air force deliberately targeted civilians or civilian targets (including hospitals) in Aleppo last year. Nor do I believe that the bombing campaign in the one case is being conducted more negligently or with less heed for civilians than was the other.
Where a ruthless and fanatical Jihadi terrorist movement embeds itself in a civilian area and takes civilians as hostages to use them as human shields, which is what happened with the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis in eastern Aleppo last year, and which is what is happening with the ISIS led Jihadis in Mosul now, deaths amongst civilians if these areas are to be liberated from the Jihadis are unavoidable. All that can be done in such cases is to take such measures as are possible to try to mitigate these losses, including by establishing ‘humanitarian corridors’ for the civilians to leave, and ‘humanitarian pauses’ to enable them to do so.
Inevitably that gives time for the Jihadis to re-supply and re-organise, making the fight against them harder and more prolonged. It was nonetheless what the Russians and the Syrians repeatedly did during the fighting in Aleppo last year, and it is what the US led coalition and the Iraqis have been obliged to do in Mosul now.
Where I do draw parallels is not in the actions of the two air forces but in the completely different way Western governments and the Western media have reported the result of the bombings in the two battles.
In the case of Aleppo the coverage, and the denunciations of the Russians which went with it, were completely over-the-top, and became frankly hysterical. By contrast until now the bombing in Mosul was barely being reported at all. To the extent that it ever got mentioned it seemed to me it was all too often done as part of some further criticism by the Western media of their perpetual whipping boys – Sputnik and RT – for daring to report it.
As for the Western media itself drawing parallels or comparisons between the bombing campaigns in Aleppo and Mosul, that was of course something which was completely out of the question. Even today, as more information about the US coalition air strike of 17th March 2017 trickles in, all the British media outlets which I have looked at studiously avoid saying anything about it. Only the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn, in his exemplary coverage of the wars in Iraq and Syria, has ever commented on it
What the noisy campaign against the bombing in Aleppo and the silence up to now about the bombing in Mosul tell us, together with the refusal to draw the obvious comparison between the two and the harsh treatment of anyone who did, is that the outcry about the bombing in Aleppo last year was propaganda pure and simple.
The real concern was not for the civilians in Aleppo but for the fact that the Jihadis in the city were about to be defeated, with the civilians being cynically used as props and pawns in a propaganda game which colluded in Al-Qaeda’s use of them as human shields.
Many will of course say that this was obvious all along. Perhaps it was, but it is still unnerving to see it exposed so quickly and so completely.