News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Belgian military personnel deployed for Operation Inherent Resolve at their military base in Jordan, November 2020 (image via Belgian Air Force).

Published

January 12, 2021

Written by

Laurie Treffers

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Belgian military personnel deployed for Operation Inherent Resolve at their military base in Jordan, November 2020 (image via Belgian Air Force).

Pressure is growing on countries to support an international political declaration to restrict the use of explosive weapons in urban areas.

The Belgian parliament is considering adopting a resolution to help protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. The resolution calls for Belgium’s active participation in ongoing diplomatic negotiations among nations on an international political declaration to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, to help reduce civilian suffering.

In a joint statement published on January 12th, Airwars, Humanity & Inclusion, PAX Christi Vlaanderen and PAX for Peace called upon Members of Parliament in Belgium to support the resolution. The statement reads: “Such resolution is a good step in the right direction as it clearly demands the Belgian Federal Government for an unequivocal commitment against the use of high-impact explosive weapons in populated areas, in line with the presumption of non-use; a recognition of the “domino effects” of wide-range explosive weapons; and a commitment to victim assistance and unconditional access to humanitarian aid. After dozens of parliamentary questions, motions and public hearings in France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the UK, the adoption of this resolution would be pioneering as it is the first of its kind.”

Parliamentary hearing

On January 6th, the National Defence Commission of the Belgian Federal Parliament came together to discuss a draft of Resolution 1222/1 on the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. Prior to the hearing, Airwars, Humanity & Inclusion, Pax Christi Vlaanderen and PAX for Peace sent Members of Parliament a letter with key recommendations.

If the Resolution is adopted by the Belgian parliament, it could be a key event in the ongoing negotiations between nations on an international political declaration. Since October 2019, more than 70 countries, including Belgium, have participated in diplomatic negotiations led by Ireland to draft such a declaration.

During the parliamentary hearing on January 6th, experts from the Belgian Red Cross and Humanity & Inclusion (HI) gave short presentations on the importance of the proposed resolution. Anne Hery, director of advocacy and institutional relations at HI, stated: “How can one systematically claim to respect the principles of precaution and proportionality of attack when using artillery or mortar shells in places where children, women and men are concentrated, or when bombing near infrastructures vital for the survival of populations, such as hospitals, schools or even power stations? The devastation in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, more recently in Nagorno Karabakh or in the Tigray region, in Ethiopia, forces us to rethink the methods, tactics and choice of weapons of war used today.”

"Comment peut-on prétendre systématiquement respecter les principes de précaution & proportionnalité de l’attaque lorsqu’on utilise obus d’artillerie/mortier dans des lieux où se concentrent des civils ou quand on bombarde à proximité d’infrastructures vitales?" @Anneh2906 #EWIPA pic.twitter.com/40NFKrBiKj

— Baptiste Chapuis (@Baptiste_Cps) January 6, 2021

 

Resolution 1222/1

Samuel Cogolati, a Member of Parliament for ECOLO-Groen, is one of the initiators of the resolution. Mr Cogolati told Airwars: “Today’s armed conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya are not the same as those of 20, 30 or 50 years ago. Because although conflicts are increasingly urban, battles are most often fought with weapons or ammunition systems with indiscriminate effects, initially designed for use on open battlefields.”

According to Cogolati, the draft resolution is “simply an attempt to respond to the call of the UN Secretary-General, as well as the ICRC and Handicap International. The text itself was written in close cooperation with civil society.” The text calls upon the Belgian federal government to not only avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, but also requests that the government actively pushes for the recognition of reverberating effects of explosive weapons and victim assistance as key elements of the international political declaration.

Mr Cogolati also emphasised the reverberating effects for civilians of the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects, such as the destruction of vital infrastructure, contamination by explosive remnants of war and massive waves of forced displacement. In October 2020, Airwars and PAX for Peace presented their joint report Seeing through the Rubble on the long-term effects of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas to MPs in Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

Camilla Roberti, advocacy officer for Humanity & Inclusion, is hopeful that the Resolution will be adapted, but also has reservations. “We remain concerned as Belgium reiterates its belief that IHL is strong enough and that strict compliance and implementation of IHL rules will suffice [to limit civilian harm during urban fighting]. On the contrary, we believe that IHL, which remains crucial, must be coupled with policies and standards that enhance its effectiveness during conflict and address the harm caused to civilians and civilian infrastructure during and after conflict.”

Roberti also warns that Belgium “doesn’t seem to take into account the indiscriminate effects caused by these weapons even in those cases where attacks appear ‘legitimate’. This is something we call on all States, and Belgium in particular, to put at the very centre of the future political declaration, as it will be the only way to put the people at the centre and prevent harm to civilians.”

Denial of civilian harm

Whilst Belgian parliamentarians are focused on pushing Belgium to become a pioneer in the protection of civilians, the Belgian Ministry of Defence continues to refuse taking responsibility for any civilian harm its own actions may have caused.

During a recent public event ‘New Military Technologies: What About Drones?’, organised by PAX Christi Vlaanderen, Vrede Vzw and the European Forum on Armed Drones on December 2nd 2020, Chief of Staff of the Belgian Air Forces, Colonel Geert de Decker, stated that “Neither in Libya, nor in Iraq, we have any reports of civilian casualties as a result of Belgian interventions. That is one of the things that we pride ourselves on. You are never one hundred per cent sure, but we do everything possible to avoid making civilian casualties.”

Belgium has, in fact, been implicated in several civilian harm incidents that were officially acknowledged by the US-led Coalition, but has repeatedly refused to answer on its possible involvement in these incidents. It remains unknown whether it was Belgium or France which was responsible for five airstrikes which led to the confirmed deaths of at least 22 civilians. When the Belgian Ministry of Defence was asked about their possible involvement in these strikes, officials told Airwars: “For the year 2017, BAF [Belgian Armed Forces] was certainly not involved in all events”, indicating that the Belgians were in fact involved in some of those events. It remains unclear why Belgium then still continues to state that its actions in Syria and Iraq have caused zero civilian casualties. On September 30th, 11 international and Belgian NGOs sent an open letter to then Minister of Defence Phillipe Goffin, calling on the Belgian government to finally take concrete steps to improve its transparency and accountability for civilian harm.

The Belgian parliament will likely vote on whether to adopt Resolution 1222/1 by February 2021.

▲ Belgian military personnel deployed for Operation Inherent Resolve at their military base in Jordan, November 2020 (image via Belgian Air Force).

Published

October 29, 2020

Written by

Laurie Treffers and Mohammed al Jumaily

Assisted by

Maysa Ismael

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Damage in the industrial area of Hawijah, years after the attack in June 2015 (image via NOS).
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A Dutch airstrike on Hawijah in 2015 led to the deaths of at least 70 civilians. In a key interview, the city's Mayor discusses events that day - and the ongoing suffering of affected civilians.

On the night of June 2nd to June 3rd 2015, Dutch F-16s bombed an ISIS Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosives Devices (VBIED) factory in the city of Hawijah, in Iraq’s Kirkuk province. Secondary explosions triggered by the airstrike killed at least 70 civilians and wounded hundreds more. Today, the city of Hawijah is still recovering – not only from long-standing ISIS control of the area, but also the lasting impact on civilian lives of the Dutch airstrike five years ago.

For their new joint report, Seeing through the rubble: The civilian impact of the use of explosive weapons in the fight against ISIS, Airwars and PAX interviewed Hawijah Mayor Subhan Al Jabouri about the direct, indirect, and ongoing effects of the strike.

The questions were answered via e-mail on September 28th, 2020. The first part of the interview discusses the direct consequences of the Dutch air raid. The second focuses on the indirect effects. In the third section, the Mayor was asked about the impact the Dutch air raid still has on the lives of civilians in Hawijah. Finally, the Mayor examines the overall damage that both the ISIS occupation and the anti-ISIS Coalition have caused in his city.

Subhan Al Jabouri, the Mayor of Hawijah, in his office (Image courtesy of the Mayor)

Interview with Subhan Al Jabouri, Mayor of Hawijah

Part I: Direct harm

1. What is Hawijah Council’s present estimate of civilian deaths and injuries resulting from this Dutch airstrike?

According to preliminary reports, more than 70 civilians were killed and more than 500 others injured.

2. Can the Council please characterise the damage caused to civilian objects such as houses, roads, medical facilities, shops, schools, childcare facilities, pharmacies, factories? Is there a list of damaged properties?

Besides severe damage to civilian properties, factories, workshops and homes in the surrounding area of the explosion, a power station, civil defence centre and a wheat mill were also destroyed.

3. How many schools were damaged in the attack, and are these functional again?

A total of 37 schools were damaged and four schools are out of service and no longer running and these have not yet been rebuilt.

4. How many pharmacies were damaged and are these open again? 

No answer.

5. Is it true that an ice- and brick factory were damaged, and are these operational again?

Yes, it was confirmed that more than one ice production plant and brick factories were destroyed as a result of the airstrike. The factories have not completely reopened, nor have their owners returned to the area.

6. Is it true that the surface water sewage system was damaged, and is that operational again?

No answer.

7. Is there an overall estimate of buildings both damaged and destroyed in the Dutch airstrike?

According to the first assessment of the size of the destruction and the diameter of the impact of the shock wave of the explosion, the size of the damage reached a diameter of more than 2km and 500 buildings were subject to major damage.

8. Can the Council please outline damage to infrastructure, such as electricity, gas pipelines, water pipelines, communication lines, etcetera?

The infrastructure in the area of the explosion and the surrounding neighbourhoods were damaged, which led to the suspension of a large number of facilities, including a power station, main communication lines and water pipes in the area.

Part II: Indirect harm

9. What has been the impact of the damage to civilian objects and infrastructure from the Dutch airstrike such as a decline in access to water, electricity, heating or other essential services such as water and sanitation services, health services, displacement, environmental impact, rubble and waste management

The great damage caused to the infrastructure of the region and the surrounding areas, as well as damage to the power station and water pipelines, led to the displacement of a large number of families from the affected areas and a significant decrease in access to basic services to them.

10. What psychological impact on local communities does the Council believe has occurred?

The horror of this strike had a profound psychological effect on the psyche of the victims, as it led to the death of dozens of families and the injury of hundreds. Some families were completely wiped out, others lost at least three or four family members. The absence of direct health care and the inability of the people to help their families and watch them die under the rubble induced trauma for the people. This is in addition to the loss of their homes, properties and sources of income and their experiences of being displaced.

11. It has been reported that Hawijans remain concerned about possible radiological and other contaminant effects of both the Dutch strike and the broader campaign to remove ISIS. Can the Council please update us on these concerns?

Despite the liberation of the area and the return of locals and their attempts, the industrial zone and surrounding residential areas have not been rebuilt. However, there are still concerns among the residents about the radiological effects and polluting materials as a result of the tremendous force of the explosion, as some believe that radioactive materials are present in the area.

Part III: Long-term effects   12. How are survivors of the Dutch airstrike presently doing?

The Al-Ghad organisation, in cooperation with the local authorities, is ensuring the registration of survivors and those affected by the airstrike through voluntary work. The information currently recorded shows that the survivors are divided between internally displaced persons in Kirkuk and Salah al-Din governorate, and internally displaced persons inside Hawija as a result of the destruction of homes, sources of income and laboratories, and the lack of basic services in the area.

13. Can the local authorities please confirm the estimate that as a result of this attack, that around 2,000 people experienced psycho-social problems?

Yes, and the number of people affected may exceed this number due to the side effects of the strike.

14. Are psychological and physical rehabilitation programs available?

There are no specialized rehabilitation or psychological support programs that specifically target survivors of the Dutch airstrike, but they may be included in public programs that target the Hawija area or Internally Displaced Peoples.

15. Have victims been compensated in any way? Can the Council confirm that there has been only one family that has received compensation? 

No compensation programs were implemented for survivors.

The aftermath of the Dutch strike on Hawijah in 2015 which killed an estimated 70 civilians (via Iraqi Revolution).

16. Have the homes of citizens been repaired? If so, how many? Could the Council please confirm the estimate that 50-60 per cent of the buildings in the area have now been rebuilt?

The houses have not been completely rebuilt, and the percentage of repaired homes does not exceed 40% of the homes. Families returning to the area live in houses damaged by the effects of the strike, as they are unable to repair their homes. It is difficult to confirm this percentage, as there are many buildings that were completely destroyed and the owners of those buildings have not returned.

17. Have people returned or are they still displaced and under which circumstances are they living now?  How many Hawijans remain displaced from the neighbourhood damaged in the Dutch strike?

Living conditions are very difficult due to the lack of basic services, sources of income and the destruction of homes. It is difficult to determine the percentages of returnees in these areas because some displaced persons from outside these areas have returned to live in the affected areas and many of them are still displaced or settled in other areas such as Kirkuk and Salah al-Din.

18. Has infrastructure and or factories/shops/facilities been repaired? What has and has not so far been repaired?

The local government has launched plans to rebuild the infrastructure, but it has not been fully implemented and the region still suffers from a lack of services. Some factories have been rebuilt, such as the wheat mill and a few workshops and shops, but a number of factories are still destroyed along with many car showrooms, workshops and schools.

19. Do people have access to water and electricity again? Did they have access to it before the attack?

A number of transmission lines and water pipes have been repaired, but the main station that was damaged as a result of the bombing has not been operational yet.

20. Have roads been repaired? If so how many?

Yes, only the main road in the area has been repaired. 

21. Has the rubble been cleared? How much?

Some of the debris has been removed but the bigger proportion remains in the area.

22. Is it safe to live in the affected neighbourhoods again? Or is there a risk of unexploded ordnance?

Yes, it is safe, and the Al-Ghad Organisation for Women and Children’s Care is implementing an awareness project about the dangers of war remnants in Hawija now.

23. Do people have access to the same local facilities as before, such as medical facilities, shops, daycares, pharmacies etcetera?

Yes, some facilities were reopened thanks to individual efforts.

24. Can the local authorities confirm the loss of jobs which resulted from this attack (because stores, workshops and factories closed and are still not opened because the area still lacks electricity and has not been rebuilt)?

Hundreds of Hawija residents lost their jobs and sources of income as a result of the destruction of workshops, car showrooms and factories, as well as the destruction of the basic infrastructure of the area. Some people have reopened a small number of workshops and shops, and the mill was rebuilt too, but the lack of services hinders the complete restoration of economic and urban life.

Part IV: General damage ISIS occupation and anti-ISIS Coalition

25. One source mentions that one of two water treatment plants (WTP) in the city were damaged in another airstrike. However another source says the WTP itself wasn’t damaged by an airstrike, but instead a power station was damaged that normally provided the WTP with electricity to pump the water. Was it the WTP itself or the power station and pipelines that were damaged? 

Yes, the water transmission lines, the supplied electricity network and the power station were all damaged.

26. The source also mentions that currently, only one WTP is functioning in Hawijah, through the public grid. However because the grid is not reliable, the functioning of the WTP is limited and it cannot cover the needs of the population.  Can the Council please confirm if this was and remains true?

Yes, it is true and the situation is still as mentioned.

27. A 2018 report noted that two of the three healthcare facilities in Hawijah had been damaged by fighting with only one functioning at that time – meaning people had to travel to Kirkuk for specialized care. However, a separate local source asserts that “No health care center has been damaged because airstrike, only some minor damages in the Directorate of Health building and it already been rehabilitated, Hawija General Hospital and public health center is functioning now – but according to field staff there are huge gaps in sanitation facilities.”

Could the Council please confirm whether two out of three health centres were or were not damaged – and if so, whether they have now been repaired?  

The Health Directorate, known to the government as the ‘second health sector’ was affected by the strike.

28. Can the local authorities please confirm that there are no rehabilitation or psycho-social support programmes for the victims presently available in Hawijah?

Humanitarian organizations generally implement psychological support programs in Hawija, but there are no programs specifically for survivors of the strike.

محافظ الحويجة سبهان الجبوري في مكتبه. الصورة مقدمة من المحافظ.

مقابلة مع محافظ الحويجة: سبهان الجبوري

ليلة الثاني إلى الثالث من حزيران عام 2015، قصفت طائرة حربية هولندية من نوع F-16s معملاً  لداعش متخصصاً في تصنيع القنابل في الحويجة بالعراق. قتلت الانفجارات الثانوية التي سببتها الضربة ما لا يقل عن 70 مدنياً وأدت لجرح مئات آخرين. اليوم، لا تزال مدينة الحويجة تتعافى، ليس من حكم داعش طويل الأمد على المنطقة فقط، بل من التأثير المستمر على حياة المدنيين من الضربة الجوية الهولندية قبل خمس سنوات.

أجرت Airwars و PAX مقابلة مع محافظ الحويجة سبهان الجبوري عن التأثير المباشر وغير المباشر للضربة الهولندية، لتقريرهما المشترك الأخير “الرؤية من خلال الركام: تأثير استخدام الأسلحة المتفجرة في الحرب ضد داعش على المدنيين”.

تمت الإجابة على الأسئلة عبر البريد الإلكتروني يوم الثامن والعشرين من أيلول 2020. يدور القسم الأول من الأسئلة حول التأثيرات المباشرة للغارة الجوية الهولندية، فيما يركز القسم الثاني على الآثار غير المباشرة. في القسم الثالث سئل المحافظ عن التأثيرات المستمرة للضربة على حياة المدنيين في الحويجة حالياً. يبحث المحافظ في القسم الرابع الضرر الإجمالي الذي سببه احتلال داعش والتحالف المضاد لداعش على المدينة.

القسم الأول: الأذى المباشر

1.ما هو تقدير مجلس الحويجة الحالي للقتلى والجرحى المدنيين نتيجة هذه الغارة الجوية الهولندية؟ 

بحسب التقارير الاولية لأعداد القتلى المدنيين فقد بلغت أكثر من 70 قتيلا وأكثر من 500 جريح.

2.هل يمكن للمجلس أن يصف الأضرار التي لحقت بالممتلكات المدنية مثل المنازل والشوارع والمرافق الطبية والمحلات التجارية والمدارس ومرافق رعاية الأطفال والصيدليات والمصانع. هل توجد قائمة بالممتلكات المدمرة أو المتضررة؟

تعرضت الممتلكات المدنية إلى أضرار كبيرة حيث تعرضت المعامل والورش والمحال التجارية والمنازل المحيطة بمنطقة الانفجار الى محو ودمار بالكامل، إضافة إلى تدمير محطة الكهرباء ومركز للدفاع المدني ومطحنة.

3. كم عدد المدارس التي تضررت جراء الهجوم، وهل عادت للعمل مجدداً؟

تعرضت 37 مدرسة للضرر في المجمل،  مع خروج 4 مدارس عن الخدمة، ولم تتم إعادة بنائها.

4. كم عدد الصيدليات التي تضررت وهل تم فتحها مجدداً؟

لا جواب

5. هل صحيح أن معمل ثلج وطوب تضرر نتيجة الضربة وهل عاد للعمل مجدداً؟

نعم، تم تأكيد تدمير أكثر من معمل لإنتاج الثلج وكذلك معامل للطوب نتيجة الضربة الجوية . لم يتم اعادة افتتاح المعامل بشكل كامل او أن أصحابها لم يعودوا للمنطقة.

6. هل صحيح أن نظام الصرف الصحي السطحي تضرر وهل عاد للعمل مجدداً؟

لا جواب

7. هل هناك تقدير إجمالي للمباني المتضررة والمدمرة في هذه الغارة الجوية الهولندية؟

حسب التقييم الأولي لحجم الدمار وقطر تأثير الموجة الارتدادية للانفجار، وصل الدمار الى  دائرة يزيد قطرها عن 2 كيلومتر وتعرض 500 مبنى لدمار بنسبة كبيرة.

·8. هل يمكن للمجلس أن يحدد الأضرار التي لحقت بالبنية التحتية مثل الكهرباء وأنابيب الغاز وأنابيب المياه وخطوط الاتصال وما إلى ذلك؟

نتيجة للأضرار الكبيرة التي لحقت بالبنى التحتية للمنطقة والمناطق المحيطة وتعرض البنى التحتية في منطقة الانفجار والأحياء المحيطة بها إلى أضرار، توقف عدد كبير من المرافق منها محطة كهرباء و خطوط الاتصالات الرئيسية وأنابيب الماء في المنطقة.

القسم الثاني: الأذى غير المباشر

9. ما هو تأثير الأضرار التي لحقت بالممتلكات المدنية والبنية التحتية من الغارة الجوية الهولندية مثل: صعوبة الوصول إلى المياه والكهرباء والتدفئة أو غيرها من الخدمات الأساسية مثل خدمات المياه والصرف الصحي والخدمات الصحية والنزوح والأثر البيئي والأنقاض وإدارة النفايات؟

أدت الأضرار الكبيرة التي لحقت بالبنى التحتية للمنطقة والمناطق المحيطة وتضرر محطة الكهرباء وأنابيب الماء إلى نزوح عدد كبير من العوائل من المناطق المتضررة وتدني نسبة وصول الخدمات الأساسية إليهم .

10. ما هو الأثر النفسي الذي حدث على المجتمعات المحلية؟

كان لهول هذه الضربة أثر نفسي عميق على الضحايا حيث أدت إلى مقتل العشرات من العوائل وإصابة المئات. بعض العوائل محيت بالكامل والبعض الآخر خسر ما لا يقل عن 3-4 أفراد من أفراد الأسرة . تسبب غياب الرعاية الصحية المباشرة وعدم قدرة الأهالي على إسعاف ذويهم ومشاهدتهم يتوفون تحت الركام بصدمة كبيرة لدى الأهالي، إضافة لخسارتهم منازلهم وممتلكاتهم ومصادر الدخل اليوم وتعرضهم للنزوح .

11. أفادت التقارير أن أهالي الحويجة ما زالوا قلقين بشأن الآثار الإشعاعية المحتملة وغيرها من الآثار الملوثة من الضربة الهولندية والحملة ضد داعش. هل يمكن للمجلس إطلاعنا على هذه المخاوف؟

رغم تحرير المنطقة وعودة الأهالي ومحاولاتهم لإعادة بناء المنطقة الصناعية والمناطق السكنية المحيطة إلا أن المخاوف ما زالت مستمرة بين الأهالي من الاثار الإشعاعية والمواد الملوثة نتيجة لقوة الانفجار الهائلة حيث يعتقد بعضهم وجود مواد إشعاعية في المنطقة.

القسم الثالث: الآثار طويلة المدى

12. كيف حال الناجين من الغارة الجوية الهولندية حالياً؟

تقوم منظمة الغد بالتعاون مع السلطات المحلية بعملية تسجيل للناجين والمتضررين من الغارة الجوية بعمل تطوعي، حيث بينت المعلومات المسجلة حالياً أن الناجين منقسمون بين نازحين داخلياً الى محافظة كركوك وصلاح الدين، و نازحين داخل الحويجة نتيجة دمار المنازل ومصادر الدخل والمعامل ونقص الخدمات الأساسية في المنطقة .

13. هل يمكن للسلطات المحلية أن تؤكد التقديرات أنه نتيجة للهجوم تعرض حوالي 2000 شخص لمشاكل اجتماعية – نفسية؟

نعم ويمكن أن يتجاوز عدد المتضررين هذا العدد بسبب الآثار الجانبية للضربة.

14. هل تتوافر برامج للتأهيل النفسي والجسدي؟ 

لا توجد برامج تأهيل أو دعم نفسي متخصصة تستهدف الناجين من الضربة الجوية الهولندية تحديداً، لكن قد يتم شمولهم بالبرامج العامة التي تستهدف منطقة الحويجة او النازحين.

15. هل تم تعويض الضحايا بأي شكل من الأشكال؟ وهل يمكن للمجلس أن يؤكد أن احدى العائلات تلقت تعويضاً؟

لم يتم تنفيذ أي برامج تعويضات للناجين.

آثار الضربة الهولندية على الحويجة عام 2015 والتي أدت لمقتل ما يقارب 70 مدنياً (عن صفحة الثورة العراقية)‎.

16. هل تم إصلاح منازل المواطنين التي تضررت؟ في حال تم ذلك، كم عددها؟ هل يمكن للمجلس أن يؤكد أن ما بين 50-60 بالمئة من المباني في المنطقة أعيد بناؤها؟

لم يتم ترميم المنازل بشكل كامل ولا تتجاوز نسبة المنازل المرممة 40% من المنازل رغم عودة العوائل للمنطقة، إلا أنهم يسكنون في منازل متضررة من آثار الضربة لعدم قدرتهم على إصلاح تلك المنازل .

قد يكون من الصعوبة تأكيد هذه النسبة لوجود العديد من المباني التي دمرت بالكامل وعدم عودة أصحاب تلك المباني .

17. ما الظروف التي يعيشها الناس الآن؟ هل عادوا إلى ديارهم أم لا يزالون نازحين؟ كم عدد سكان الحويجة الذين ما زالوا نازحين من المناطق المتضرر من الضربة الهولندية؟

الظروف المعيشية صعبة جداً بسبب نقص الخدمات الأساسية ومصادر الدخل ودمار المنازل. من الصعب تحديد نسبة العائدين في تلك المناطق بسبب عودة بعض النازحين من خارج تلك المناطق للسكن في المناطق المتضررة،  ومازال العديد منهم نازحين او استقروا في مناطق أخرى مثل كركوك وصلاح الدين.

18. هل تم إصلاح البنية التحتية و المصانع و المحلات والمرافق؟ ما الذي تم إصلاحه ولم يتم إصلاحه حتى الآن؟

أطلقت الحكومة المحلية خططاً لإصلاح البنى التحتية إلا أنها لم تنفذ بشكل كامل ومازالت المنطقة تعاني من نقص الخدمات. تم اعادة بناء بعض من المصانع مثل مطحنة الحنطة وعدد قليل من الورش والمحال لكن لا يزال عدد من المصانع مدمراً والكثير من معارض السيارات والورش والمدارس.

19. هل يحصل الناس على الماء والكهرباء من جديد؟ (هل تمكنوا من الوصول إليهما قبل الهجوم)؟

تم إصلاح عدد من الخطوط الناقلة وأنابيب المياه لكن المحطة الرئيسية التي تضررت نتيجة القصف لم تعمل حتى الآن.

20. هل تم إصلاح الطرق؟ إذا كان الأمر كذلك فكم منها تم إصلاحه؟

نعم،  تم إصلاح الطريق الرئيسي للمنطقة فقط.

21. هل تمت إزالة الأنقاض؟ في حال حدث ذلك فكم حجمها؟

تم ازالة جزء من الركام لكن الجزء الاكبر باق في المنطقة.

22. هل الأحياء المتضررة آمنة للعيش فيها مرة أخرى (بالنسبة للألغام و ما إلى ذلك)؟

نعم آمنة وتقوم منظمة الغد لرعاية المرأة والطفل بتنفيذ مشروع التوعية من مخاطر المخلفات الحربية داخل الحويجة حالياً.

 23. هل تتوفر نفس المرافق المحلية لأهالي الحويجة كما كانت من قبل (مثل منشآت طبية، محلات، ومراكز رعاية للأطفال، وصيدليات)؟

نعم،  تم إعادة افتتاح بعض  المرافق بجهود ذاتية بسيطة.

24. هل يمكن للسلطات المحلية أن تؤكد خسارة وظائف بسبب الهجوم (باعتبار أن محالاً وورش عمل ومصانع أغلقت ولا تزال غير فاعلة لأن المنطقة لا تزال تعاني من انقطاع الكهرباء ولم تتم إعادة بنائها)؟

فقد المئات من أهالي الحويجة وظائفهم ومصادر دخلهم نتيجة لدمار الورش ومعارض السيارات والمصانع وكذلك دمار البنى التحتية الأساسية للمنطقة. أعاد بعض الناس افتتاح عدد قليل من الورش والمحال وكذلك إعادة بناء المطحنة إلا أن نقص الخدمات يعرقل إعادة الحركة العمرانية بالكامل.

القسم الرابع: التأثير العام لاحتلال داعش و للتحالف المضاد لداعش على الحويجة.

25. يذكر أحد المصادر أن إحدى محطتي معالجة المياه (WTP) في المدينة تضررت في غارة جوية أخرى. ومع ذلك ، يقول مصدر آخر إن محطة المعالجة نفسها لم تتضرر من جراء الغارة الجوية  ولكن بدلاً من ذلك تضررت محطة طاقة  كانت تزود محطة معالجة المياه بالكهرباء لضخ المياه. هل تضررت محطة المعالجة نفسها أم محطة الطاقة وخطوط الأنابيب؟

نعم تضررت الخطوط الناقلة والشبكة المجهزة للكهرباء ومحطة الطاقة.

26. ويشير المصدر أيضًا إلى أن محطة معالجة واحدة فقط تعمل حاليًا في الحويجة من خلال الشبكة العامة. ومع ذلك ، نظرًا لأن الشبكة غير موثوقة ، فإن تشغيل محطة المعالجة محدودة ولا يمكنها تغطية احتياجات السكان. هل يمكن للمجلس أن يؤكد ما إذا كان هذا صحيحًا ولا يزال كذلك؟

نعم صحيح ومازال الوضع كما هو مذكور.

 27. أشار تقرير صدر عام 2018 إلى أن اثنتين من مرافق الرعاية الصحية الثلاثة في الحويجة تضررت بسبب القتال وكان هناك مركز واحد فقط يعمل في ذلك الوقت – مما يعني أن الناس اضطروا أن يسافروا إلى كركوك للحصول على رعاية متخصصة. ومع ذلك، أكد مصدر محلي منفصل أنه “لم يتضرر أي مركز رعاية صحية بسبب الغارة الجوية، فقط بعض الأضرار الطفيفة في مبنى مديرية الصحة وتم إعادة تأهيله بالفعل، ومستشفى الحويجة العام ومركز الصحة العامة يعملان الآن – ولكن وفقًا للموظفين الميدانيين هناك فجوات هائلة في مرافق الصرف الصحي”. 

هل يمكن للمجلس أن يؤكد ما إذا كان 2 من أصل 3 مراكز صحية قد تضررت أو لم تتضرر – وإذا كان الأمر كذلك ، فهل تم إعادة إعمارها الآن؟

تضررت مديرية الصحة من أثر الضربة واسمها المعروف لدى الحكومة حالياً القطاع الصحي الثاني.

28. هل يمكن للسلطات المحلية أن تؤكد غياب وجود برامج دعم اجتماعية نفسية للناجين الموجودين حالياً في الحويجة؟

تقوم المنظمات الإنسانية بتنفيذ برامج الدعم النفسي في الحويجة بشكل عام،  لكن لا توجد برامج مخصصة للناجين من الضربة.

Subhan Al Jabouri, de burgemeester van Hawija in zijn kantoor (foto via de burgemeester).

Interview met Subhan al-Jabouri, burgemeester van Hawija

In de nacht van 2 op 3 juni 2015 bombardeerden Nederlandse F-16’s een ISIS Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosives Devices (VBIED) -fabriek in Hawija, Irak. Secundaire explosies veroorzaakt door de luchtaanval hebben minstens 70 burgers gedood en honderden anderen raakten gewond. Vandaag de dag is de stad nog steeds aan het herstellen van niet alleen de langdurige ISIS-controle over het gebied, maar ook van de blijvende impact op het burgerleven van de Nederlandse luchtaanval vijf jaar geleden.

Voor hun recentelijk gepubliceerde gezamenlijke rapport Seeing through the rubble: The civilian impact of the use of explosive weapons in the fight against ISIS, interviewden Airwars en PAX de burgemeester van Hawija Subhan Al Jabouri over de directe en indirecte aanhoudende gevolgen van de aanval.

De vragen zijn op 28 september 2020 via e-mail beantwoord. Het eerste deel van de vragen gaat over de directe gevolgen van de Nederlandse luchtaanval. Het tweede deel focust op de indirecte gevolgen. In het derde deel is de burgemeester gevraagd naar de impact die de Nederlandse luchtaanval vandaag de dag nog altijd heeft op het leven van burgers in Hawija. In het vierde deel gaat de burgemeester in op de algehele schade die de ISIS-bezetting en anti-ISIS Coalitie hebben achtergelaten in zijn stad.

Deel I: Directe gevolgen  1. Wat is uw huidige inschatting van het aantal burgerdoden en gewonden door de Nederlandse luchtaanval op Hawija in de macht van 2 op 3 juni? 

Volgens de eerste rapportages zijn er meer dan 70 burgers gedood, en meer dan 500 gewond geraakt. 

2. Kunt u de schade aan civiele objecten omschrijven; zoals schade aan huizen, wegen, medische voorzieningen, winkels, scholen, kinderopvang, apotheken, fabrieken, enzovoorts? Is er een lijst van beschadigde objecten?

Er zijn behalve zware beschadigingen aan civiele objecten zoals fabrieken, werkplaatsen, winkels en huizen in de directe omgeving van de explosie ook een elektriciteitscentrale, een Civil Defense Center en een molen vernietigd. 

3. Hoeveel scholen zijn beschadigd geraakt, en zijn deze inmiddels weer operationeel?

Er zijn in totaal 37 scholen beschadigd waarvan vier scholen volledig zijn gesloten; deze zijn nog niet opnieuw opgebouwd. 

4. Hoeveel apotheken zijn beschadigd, en zijn deze weer open?

Geen antwoord.

5. Klopt het dat er ook een ijs- en een baksteenfabriek zijn beschadigd, en zijn deze weer operationeel inmiddels? 

Ja, het is bevestigd dat er meer dan een ijsproductiefabriek en steenfabrieken zijn verwoest door de luchtaanval. De fabrieken zijn nog niet volledig heropend, of de eigenaren zijn nog niet teruggekeerd.

6. Klopt het dat het (oppervlakte water) riool is beschadigd; is dit inmiddels weer gerepareerd? 

Geen antwoord.

7. Is er een schatting van de totale schade van gebouwen die beschadigd of vernietigd zijn door de Nederlandse luchtaanval?

Volgens het eerste onderzoek naar de reikwijdte van de schade, en de doorsnee van het gebied dat door de drukgolf van de explosie is geraakt, heeft de vernietiging een diameter van meer dan 2 kilometer, waarbij 500 gebouwen voor een groot deel werden verwoest. 

8. Kunt u de schade aan infrastructuur zoals elektriciteitsvoorzieningen, gasleidingen, waterleidingen, communicatie infrastructuur etcetera beschrijven?

De infrastructuur van zowel het explosiegebied als de omliggende buurten is beschadigd, wat heeft geleid tot gebrek aan veel diensten die deze faciliteiten leverden, zoals een elektriciteitscentrale, communicatielijnen en waterbuizen. 

Deel II: Indirecte gevolgen 

9. Wat is de impact van deze schade aan civiele objecten en infrastructuur ten gevolge van de Nederlandse luchtaanval geweest, zoals verminderde toegang tot water, elektriciteit, verwarming en andere essentiële diensten zoals water en sanitaire voorzieningen, gezondheidszorg, ontheemd raken, de impact op milieu en vuilnis- en puinverwerking? 

De grote schade aan de infrastructuur van de buurt en omliggende buurten, maar ook de schade aan de elektriciteitscentrale en Waterbuizen heeft ervoor gezorgd dat een groot aantal families uit de getroffen gebieden ontheemd is geraakt en heeft geleid tot een significant verminderde toegang tot basisvoorzieningen. 

10. Wat is volgens u de psychosociale impact op de lokale gemeenschap geweest?

De verschrikking van deze aanval heeft een heftige psychologische impact op de zielen van de slachtoffers achtergelaten, aangezien het in tientallen families tot de dood heeft geleid, en honderden gevallen tot verwondingen. Sommige families zijn volledig weggevaagd, andere families verloren minsten drie of vier gezinsleden. De afwezigheid van directe medische zorg en het onvermogen van mensen om hun families te helpen en hen te zien sterven onder het puin veroorzaakten een enorme schok bij inwoners. Tel daarbij op het verlies van hun huizen, bezittingen, inkomstenbronnen en het verworden tot vluchteling. 

11. Er leven naar verluidt onder de mensen in Hawija zorgen over mogelijke radiologische en andere giftige effecten van zowel deze Nederlandse aanval, als ook de bredere militaire campagne om ISIS te verjagen. Kunt u ons over deze zorgen vertellen? 

Ondanks de bevrijding van het gebied en de terugkomst en pogingen van inwoners ten spijt, zijn het bedrijventerrein en de omliggende woonwijken nog niet opnieuw opgebouwd. Er zijn nog steeds zorgen onder de inwoners over stralingseffecten en verontreinigde materialen ten gevolge van de enorme explosie, aangezien sommigen zeggen dat er ook radioactieve materialen in de wijk aanwezig zouden zijn geweest. 

Deel III: Langdurige gevolgen

12. Hoe gaat het met de overlevenden van de Nederlandse luchtaanval?

De organisatie al-Ghad registreert samen met de lokale autoriteiten op vrijwillige basis de ontheemden (Internal Displaced People) en diegenen die schade hebben geleden door de aanval. De tot nu toe verzamelde informatie laat zien dat het ene gedeelte van de ontheemden in Kirkuk en de Salah al-Din provincie leeft, en het andere gedeelte in Hawija, aangezien hun huizen vernietigd zijn, hun bronnen van inkomsten en de fabrieken zijn weggevallen, en het aan basisvoorzieningen ontbreekt in het gebied.

13. Kunt u bevestigen dat als gevolg van de Nederlandse aanval rond de 2000 mensen psychosociale problemen ondervinden? 

Ja en mogelijk nog meer, gezien de neveneffecten van de aanval. 

14. Worden er psychologische en fysieke revalideringstrajecten aangeboden? 

Er zijn geen rehabilitatieprogramma’s of speciale psychologische hulpprogramma’s, specifiek voor de groep ontheemden van de Nederlandse aanval, maar mogelijk doen ze mee in de bredere programma’s die worden aangeboden in het gebied Hawija of aan ontheemden. 

15. Zijn de slachtoffers op welke wijze dan ook gecompenseerd? Kan de burgemeester bevestigen dat er maar een familie is die tot nu toe compensatie heeft ontvangen?

Er is geen compensatie geweest voor ontheemden. 

De ravage na de Nederlandse aanval op Hawija in juni 2015 (via Iraqi Revolution).

16. Zijn de huizen inmiddels weer opgebouwd? Zo ja, hoeveel? Klopt het dat rond de 50 tot 60 procent is herbouwd?

De huizen zijn niet volledig gerestaureerd, en niet meer dan 40 procent van de huizen zijn gerepareerd. Teruggekeerde families wonen in de door de luchtaanval beschadigde huizen omdat ze niet in staat zijn hun huis te repareren. Het is moeilijk het percentage precies te bevestigen, omdat er veel gebouwen volledig zijn verwoest en de eigenaren van deze gebouwen niet zijn teruggekeerd. 

17. Zijn de mensen inmiddels weer teruggekeerd, of zijn ze nog op de vlucht, en wat zijn hun leefomstandigheden? Hoeveel mensen uit Hawija zijn nog steeds dakloos door de door de Nederlandse aanval veroorzaakte schade? 

De leefomstandigheden zijn slecht vanwege het gebrek aan basisvoorzieningen, inkomstenbronnen en verwoeste huizen. Het is lastig een percentage te geven van hoeveel mensen zijn teruggekeerd, omdat sommige vluchtelingen van elders in het gebied zijn gaan wonen. En nog steeds zijn velen van hen ontheemd of hebben zich gevestigd in andere gebieden zoals Kirkuk en Salah al-Din.

18. Is de infrastructuur en zijn fabrieken/winkels/andere faciliteiten inmiddels gerepareerd? Wat is er wel en niet heropgebouwd tot nu toe?

De lokale overheid heeft plannen gelanceerd om de infrastructuur te repareren, maar ze heeft die niet volledig uitgevoerd en het gebied gaat nog steeds gebukt onder een gebrek aan voorzieningen. Sommige fabrieken zijn herbouwd, zoals de tarwemolen, en een paar werkplaatsen en winkels, maar nog steeds is een aantal fabrieken verwoest, net als veel autoshowrooms, werkplaatsen en scholen. 

19. Hebben mensen weer stromend water en elektra? (En hadden ze dit voor de aanval?)

Een aantal transportleidingen en waterbuizen gerepareerd, maar de centrale die verwoest werd door het bombardement is tot nu toe nog niet operationeel. 

20. Zijn er wegen hersteld, en zo ja hoeveel?

Ja, alleen de hoofdweg in het gebied is gerepareerd. 

21. Is het puin geruimd? Hoeveel?

Een deel van het puin is geruimd, maar het grootste gedeelte ligt nog in het gebied. 

22. Is het veilig om weer in de getroffen wijken te wonen? Of liggen er nog explosieve oorlogsresten?

Ja het is veilig, en Al-Ghad Organisation for Women and Children’s Care geeft momenteel voorlichting over de gevaren van oorlogsresten in Hawija. 

23. Hebben mensen weer toegang tot dezelfde voorzieningen als voor de aanval, zoals medische faciliteiten, winkels, kinderopvang, apotheken, etcetera?

Ja, sommigen zijn weer geopend met basale individuele inspanningen.

24. Kunt u bevestigen dat veel mensen als gevolg van deze aanval hun baan hebben verloren, omdat winkels, werkplaatsen en fabrieken zijn gesloten en niet meer open zijn gegaan, en het gebied nog steeds niet herbouwd is en gebrek heeft aan elektriciteit?

Honderden inwoners van Hawija hebben hun banen en hun bron van inkomsten verloren door de verwoesting van de werkplaatsen, autoshowrooms en fabrieken, en ook is de basale infrastructuur van het gebied verwoest. Sommige mensen hebben opnieuw een paar werkplaatsen en winkels geopend, en ook de meelfabriek is herbouwd, maar het gebrek aan voorzieningen hindert de volledige terugkeer van het economische en stadse leven. 

Deel IV: Algemene schade ISIS-bezetting en anti-ISIS Coalitie

25. Een van onze bronnen meldt dat een van de twee waterzuiveringsinstallaties in de stad is beschadigd in een andere luchtaanval, terwijl een andere bron zegt dat niet de waterzuiveringsinstallatie zelf geraakt is, maar de elektriciteitscentrale die de zuiveringsinstallatie normaal voorzag van elektriciteit, en dat deze daarom niet werkt. Was de waterzuiveringsinstallatie zelf beschadigd of de elektriciteitscentrale? 

Zowel de transportleidingen, het elektriciteit netwerk als de elektriciteitscentrale zijn beschadigd. 

26. Diezelfde bron rapporteert ook dat er op dit moment maar een waterzuiveringsinstallatie werkt, die afhankelijk is van het openbare elektriciteitsnetwerk. Maar omdat het elektriciteitsnetwerk niet betrouwbaar is, is de watervoorziening beperkt en dus niet genoeg voor de behoefte van de lokale bevolking. Is dit inderdaad het geval?

Ja, dit is correct en is nog steeds het geval. 

27. Een rapport uit 2018 meldt dat twee van de drie gezondheidscentra in Hawija beschadigd waren door de gevechten, en dat er op dat moment slechts een operationeel was – dit had als gevolg dat mensen naar Kirkuk moesten reizen voor meer specialistische zorg. Een lokale bron meldt echter dat er “geen gezondheidscentrum is beschadigd, maar dat er alleen kleine schade aan het “Directorate of Health”-gebouw was (inmiddels gerepareerd), dat het algemeen ziekenhuis in Hawijah weer open is, maar dat er wel enorme gaten zijn gevallen in de sanitaire voorzieningen in het ziekenhuis.” 

Kunt u bevestigen of er inderdaad twee van de drie gezondheidscentra zijn beschadigd, en zo ja, of deze inmiddels zijn hersteld? 

Het “Health Directorate” gebouw, ook bekend als de “tweede gezondheidssector”, is inderdaad beschadigd geweest.

28. Klopt het dat er geen revalidatie en psychosociale ondersteuning is voor de slachtoffers nu in Hawija?

Er zijn wel humanitaire organisaties die psychologische hulpprogramma’s bieden in Hawija, maar niet specifiek voor de overlevenden en ontheemden van deze aanval. 

▲ Damage in the industrial area of Hawijah, years after the attack in June 2015 (image via NOS).

Published

October 2020

Written by

Chris Woods, Laurie Treffers and Roos Boer (PAX)

Seeing through the rubble: The civilian impact of the use of explosive weapons in the fight against ISIS

A joint report ‘Seeing through the rubble: The civilian impact of the use of explosive weapons in the fight against ISIS‘ by Airwars and PAX examines the dire and long-lasting effects of explosive weapons on civilian populations in towns and cities, in recent international military campaigns in Mosul, Raqqa and Hawijah.

Explosive weapons kill and injure people upon use, and often have an impact that extends far beyond the time and place of the attack. They are a major driver of forced displacement – not only because of fear of death and injury and the destruction of homes, but also because of their profound impact upon critical infrastructure services such as health care, education, and water and sanitation services.

In order to better protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, the authors of the report call upon States to integrate the direct, indirect and reverberating effects of the use of explosive weapons into their military planning and operations, and to develop and support a strong international political declaration to better protect civilians against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Published

October 2, 2020

Written by

Laurie Treffers

As Belgium's F-16s return to the skies of Iraq and Syria, significant accountability improvements for civilian harm are needed.

On October 1st, Belgium once again sent its F-16s to participate in Operation Inherent Resolve, fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Yet the Belgian, Iraqi and Syrian publics are still kept in the dark when it comes to civilian harm during previous deployments. The Belgian military to this day refuses to take responsibility for civilians its actions might have killed or injured.

Also this week, an open letter to defence minister Philippe Goffin from eleven civil society organisations including Airwars – calling for greater transparency and accountability for reported civilian harm – has been widely covered by the Belgian media.

Until the end of 2017, Belgium was one of the more active Coalition allies, alternating with the Dutch military. During some 991 declared missions, the Belgians fired nearly one thousand bombs and missiles. A total of 95 Belgian military personnel and a team of four Red Card Holders will now be deployed again until September 2021. According to the parliamentary resolution approving this latest weapon deployment, any possible action in Syria “covers only a buffer zone on the border with Iraq and is much more restricted than in 2017”. The stated aim of the mission is to protect troops on the ground, and to carry out planned or ad-hoc targeted attacks on ISIS.

In August, the Belgian news organisation HLN reported that the Belgian military had updated its weapons to ‘precision bombs’. F-16s will be armed with bombs of the type GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb. According to a Belgian military technician, the munition was chosen because of its “surgical precision”.

According to Alma Al Osta, Arms Advocacy Manager with Humanity And Inclusion, this change of munition is not enough: “There is much more to protecting civilians than just choosing a precise weapon. Belgium has indeed chosen GBU-39/B bombs, which are known for their precision, but these bombs weigh around 115kg and are capable of penetrating one meter of steel-reinforced concrete. If this weapon is used on open battlefields without the presence of civilians, then the risk would be smaller. But wars nowadays are fought in towns and cities where people live, children go to school, and civilians gather on markets.”

Besides the direct impact of explosive weapons in urban areas, Al Osta is worried about their secondary effects: “We have no information on how Belgium will prevent civilian harm and mitigate the so-called domino effects of airstrikes, such as trauma, damage to civilian objects, displacement, lack of access to education, health care and agricultural land, contamination with unexploded ordnances, damage to the environment and further instability,” she notes.

The zero civilian casualty myth

In March 2020, Commander of the Belgian Air Component Frederik Vansina refused to answer any questions on Belgian involvement in specific civilian harm incidents and told De Morgen: “Countries within the Coalition show solidarity and neither confirm nor deny [involvement]. Let’s talk about how the Syrian regime and Russia operate there. That’s a different story. Just look at the images of Homs and Aleppo.”

Back in 2017, a senior Belgian official had told Airwars that the government was planning to admit two civilian harm incidents – one at Al Qaim on February 27th 2017 and the second incident on March 21st of that year in the vicinity of Mosul. According to the US-led Coalition itself, the strikes had killed at least two civilians and injured four others. However, the Belgian government then publicly failed to take responsibility for these incidents, and even asserted that its actions had killed zero civilians.

In March 2020, a joint investigation by Airwars, RTL Netherlands, BBC, De Morgen and Liberation revealed that Belgium consistently refuses to acknowledge civilian casualties from its actions, even where the US-led Coalition has conceded particular Belgian strikes to have killed and injured non combatants. In response to this investigation, the Belgian Ministry of Defence stated only that the Belgium Armed Forces (BAF) were “certainly not involved in all events.”

Previous comments by Colonel J. Poesen, head of operations at the Belgian Air Force, indicated that only incidents in which international humanitarian law was possibly violated were being investigated. However, the acknowledged civilian harm events recognised by the Coalition show that civilians are nevertheless killed in military actions, even where they might comply with international humanitarian law.

Lack of parliamentary overview

A major bottleneck to greater transparency and accountability for Belgian military actions abroad is a lack of effective parliamentary oversight. According to a 2018 report by Pax Christi Vlaanderen and Vredesactie, “there is no binding parliamentary approval for foreign missions, nor mandatory evaluations during and after the operation. Moreover, there is no formal and transparent framework under which the government periodically informs parliament about the specific objectives, content and consequences of military operations.”

In the special parliamentary commission Follow-up of Foreign Missions, established in the early 2000s, MPs are confidentially briefed about military interventions. Yf Reykers, Assistant Professor in International Relations at Maastricht University notes: “This commission is special in the sense that there are not many countries having such a commission in which high-level classified information is shared. However, that information cannot be used by MPs who are part of that commission because they are bound to strict confidentiality. They are also unable to verify this information independently with other sources.”

Belgium about to send four #F16s to #Iraq and #Syria as part of #InherentResolve.For the #warpowers community: parliamentary approval by a remarkable coalition of minority government parties with @de_NVA and far-right @vlbelang. https://t.co/lVAIsQFRzP via @demorgen

— Yf Reykers (@YfReykers) June 26, 2020

The Parliamentary resolution approving the upcoming weapon deployment does include several amendments that call on the government to improve its transparency and accountability practices. For example, Parliament requests the federal government “to communicate publicly, after investigation and taking into account military and security considerations, about possible civilian casualties as a result of Belgian military operations and to ensure active cooperation and exchange with external monitoring groups and human rights organizations.”

Reykers is generally positive about the amendments: “It is progress that Parliament is even considering transparency and accountability practices. That is really a change compared to a few years ago. We see that Belgium is learning from its neighbouring countries, such as the Netherlands, especially after the Hawijah scandal.”

However, Reykers also sees possibilities for the Government to manoeuvre itself through the amendments with minimum levels of transparency and accountability: “The question is if these amendments will bring about structural change. One of the things that is really needed is systematic evaluations [of civilian harm claims] before, during and after a mission, ideally publicly available.”

While the new parliamentary resolution urges the federal Government to improve its transparency and accountability during the upcoming deployment, it is yet to be seen whether Belgium will structurally change its practices – and whether the civilian victims of its previous airstrikes will receive answers.

    An opinion piece by Laurie Treffers for Airwars, related to Belgium’s recent redeployment to Iraq and Syria, was also published in the Belgian daily De Standaard on September 24th 2020.
▲ Library image: A pair of Belgian F-16s over the Baltic region in early 2020 (Picture via Belgian Defence)

Published

July 7, 2020

Written by

Laurie Treffers

Header Image

Archive image of munitions being loaded onto a Dutch F-16, during the war against ISIS (via Defensie).

Ministry of Defence says it is revising current civilian harm reporting procedures

The Dutch Minister of Defence, Ank Bijleveld, has reported to Parliament on the latest progress made by the Government in improving transparency regarding civilian harm as a result of Dutch military actions. Coupled with other steps taken in the months after the Hawijah scandal, the Netherlands appears slowly to be shedding its reputation as one of the least transparent members of the international Coalition fighting so-called Islamic State.

In her June 29th letter to Parliament, the Minister laid out a number of changes which she claimed would improve both transparency and accountability. The letter followed on from a fourth parliamentary debate on May 14th on the Hawijah case. Back in October 2019, it was revealed that the Dutch military had been responsible for a 2015 airstrike in Iraq, which had led to the deaths of an estimated 70 civilians. The Government had then withheld that fact from the public for more than four years.

An important topic during the fourth debate was the April 21st release of key US military documents on the Hawijah incident. The US Department of Defense had provided those previously classified documents to Dutch media, after a judicial procedure following an unanswered Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Four months earlier, Minister Bijleveld had filed a request with her US counterpart Defense Secretary Mark Esper publicly to share the documents, including the American DoD’s own investigation into Hawijah. She received a negative response to that request on February 28th. However, MPs say they found it difficult to understand why the Minister was not given permission to share the documents, when they were publicly released to the press just two months later.

The contents of those documents revealed that US officials had been aware that an airstrike on the targeted ISIS IED factory in Hawijah could possibly present a significant risk to civilians. CIA informants had, for example, warned the Coalition about civilians living in the area. Furthermore, while Minister Bijleveld has continuously stated that all procedures leading up to the Hawijah strike were followed correctly, the US investigation revealed that Coalition target development processes had been amended after the deadly event, as they had proved to be insufficient. This was not reported to Parliament by Dutch defence officials.

Excerpt of the key US documents released to Dutch media in April 2020. LTG Sean MacFarland approved the recommendation to adjust the Coalition’s targeting development processes.

It was in this context that the Minister, once again, recently had to explain herself in front of a clearly frustrated Parliament. During the May 14th debate, Bijleveld said she shared the frustration of MPs regarding what was characterised as poor communication from the Americans and the Coalition.

In her letter of June 29th to MPs, the Minister wrote that she had met with her US counterpart Mark Esper earlier that day and that he had, in her words, “deplored the course of events, endorsed the importance of transparency and indicated that his department had done everything possible to provide the correct information.”

Red Card Holder

One major criticism of Hawijah was that the Dutch ‘red card holder’ had agreed on the strike taking place – despite the known risk to civilians in the area. The Red Card Holder  (RCH) was the Dutch representative in the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar, with the option of vetoing actions which fell outside Dutch rules of engagement. According to Bijleveld, as of July 1st, the instructions for the Dutch Red Card Holder have been updated in line with a successful parliamentary motion. From now on, she noted, the red card holder must proactively request important information related to future airstrikes the Dutch military may carry out. In the case of Hawijah, the Dutch RCH was, for example, unaware that the Americans had intelligence suggesting that a possible airstrike posed a risk to civilians.

The Minister’s latest letter also states that the MoD expects to complete its updating of internal reporting procedure on civilian harm in the second half of 2020. The process of informing the Public Prosecutor’s Office (OM) has already been updated: from now on, the OM will be informed as soon as the MoD starts an investigation into any civilian harm allegation. In the case of Hawijah, it took Defensie nine months to inform the OM.

On June 23rd, the minister additionally proposed a new procedure to inform Parliament of any investigations into civilian harm during future Dutch missions. Whereas the initial plan was to inform Parliament confidentially, the Minister now suggests that due to “the importance the parliament attaches to public transparency”, the default will instead be for the defence ministry to publicly inform parliament of such cases, unless this “is impossible, according to the Minister.”

According to Lauren Gould, Assistant Professor in Conflict Studies at Utrecht University and project leader of the Intimacies of Remote Warfare project, the Minister’s proposal contains several loopholes: “This is history just repeating itself: the Minister uses the catchphrase ‘national, operational and personnel security’ and is exempt from being transparent or being held to account for a lack of transparency. It should be clearly defined when the parliament finds it acceptable that a minister does not inform the broader public. The minister will have to prove that these exceptional circumstances are at play.”

Gould continued: “Furthermore, the question remains: what information will Defensie share with parliament? They’ve stated multiple times that as a small country, the Netherlands is unequipped to independently investigate the nature of targets or the civilian casualties that occur. There’s nothing in the procedure about how they will tackle one of the main problems in the Hawijah case: that crucial information collected by the US about Dutch military actions was withheld from the Dutch parliament and public.”

The aftermath of the Dutch strike on Hawijah in 2015 which killed an estimated 70 civilians (via Iraqi Revolution).

Victim compensation

In her June 29th letter to Parliament, the minister also noted that on June 10th, Defensie personnel had spoken with Basim Razzo, a survivor of another 2015 Dutch airstrike, which had killed four relatives when Mr Razzo’s Mosul home was bombed by a Dutch F-16 as a result of an intelligence error. Mr Razzo himself was severely injured. According to Minister Bijleveld, discussions are continuing with Mr Razzo’s counsel, human rights lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld.

Earlier, the Minister had promised to explore possibilities to voluntarily aid local projects for the devastated community in Hawijah. There have, it’s now emerged, been talks between the Dutch embassy and local authorities on the matter. The Minister writes that Defensie has identified several local organisations operating in Hawijah; and that these have been asked what their community needs. Bijleveld says she hopes to inform Parliament of developments after the summer recess.

“To prevent this information from reaching Parliament in another manner”, the Minister also note that local authorities in Hawijah have expressed concerns about possible undefined radiation after the Dutch airstrike in June 2015. According to Bijleveld however, the munitions used in the attack were not capable of producing radiation. Both the MoD and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs say they will explore whether the concerns of Hawijans can be verified in another manner.

The Minister also reports on a lawsuit filed by human rights lawyer Zegveld in the name of Hawijah’s victims. According to Bijleveld, the Dutch Cabinet has sent a note of sympathy to the victims and their relatives, but claimed that an offer to begin a conversation was rejected.

Explaining that rejection, lawyer Zegveld told Airwars: “[The Minister] wanted to have a one on one conversation ‘human being to human being’ with the Hawijah victim living in the Netherlands. He was expected to come alone, without me or anyone else. We did not agree to that. It’s not about the person Bijleveld, but about her responsibility as a Minister.”

Republishing data

Along with the Minister’s latest June 29th letter to Parliament, the MoD has now also published its weekly reports of all anti-ISIS airstrikes in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2018 as open data, after recent requests from Airwars and the Open State Foundation.

“While Airwars welcomes this next step towards a more transparent Defensie, the content of the data is still below standard,” says Airwars deputy director Dmytro Chupryna. “Other Coalition allies such as the UK already report the specific date, targets and near locations of their airstrikes. For Defensie to become more transparent, improving their reporting on airstrikes really is one of the first steps to take.”

▲ Archive image of munitions being loaded onto a Dutch F-16, during the war against ISIS (via Defensie).

Published

June 22, 2020

Written by

Laurie Treffers, Mohammed al Jumaily and Oliver Imhof

Foreign power involvement risks linking Syria and Libya wars, experts warn.

Civilians are continuing to benefit from a months-long ceasefire in northern Syria, which has seen casualty numbers sharply fall to levels last seen in the early months of the civil war. Experts remain divided however, on how long this pause in fighting will last – and what it means for Syria and its divided people.

April and May 2020 marked the first complete months since the beginning of the Russian campaign in Syria in September 2015, in which Airwars did not monitor any civilian casualty allegations against Moscow. A ceasefire beginning in early March – and international pressure in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis – brought an end to months of violent air raids on Idlib governorate, which had killed up to 556 civilians.

On March 5th, 2020, Russia and Turkey reached agreement on a ceasefire in Idlib governorate, after recent escalations had led to the deaths of 36 Turkish soldiers. Terms included the provision of a 12 kilometre long safety corridor alongside the M4 highway, which connects Aleppo with Latakia; and joint patrols by Russian and Turkish forces.

“The reason why Russia signed the ceasefire is because it got what it wanted. Their endgame has always been to secure the integrity of the Syrian regime,” argues Alexey Khlebnikov, a Middle East expert and Russian foreign policy analyst with the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). “The priority in Idlib was never to take it over in its entirety. The campaign was not targeted at getting every centimetre. There were and there are two major goals: securing the M5, which connects Aleppo and Damascus, and the M4 highway, connecting Aleppo with Latakia.”

According to some experts, Turkey did less well out of that agreement. Gerhard Mangott, a professor at the University of Innsbruck specialising in international relations and security in the post-Soviet region, notes: “The ceasefire is a compromise between Russian and Turkish interests, with poor results for Turkey and good results for Russia. Turkey had set an ultimatum to the Syrian government to withdraw to the front line of April 2019, when Syrian and allied forces started their offensive in Idlib. Due to Russian pressure, Turkey had to accept the actual front line.”

Idlib offensive: at least 423 civilian deaths

As the last remaining opposition stronghold, north west Syria was targeted heavily during a three-month campaign by the Assad regime and Russia as they sought to gain control of the region. Russian-backed pro-government forces (made up of Syrian Government forces, Hezbollah, and allied armed groups) attempted to push into both Idlib and Aleppo Governorates, and defeat remaining anti-government rebels.

The beginning of the offensive saw pro-government forces make quick advances against rebel troops. By the end of December 2019, the Assad government had captured large parts of the Ma’arat Al Nu’man countryside including Jarjnaz, the largest town in the area; and had completely encircled the main Turkish observation point in Sarman.

Then, following a short-lived ceasefire between January 9th and 15th, the Syrian Government made some of its most significant advances in Idlib since the civil war began in 2011. By January 28th, pro-government forces had managed to capture Ma’arat Al Nu’man, a city of major strategic and symbolic importance due to its position on the Aleppo-Damascus Highway, which serves as one of the country’s main economic arteries to areas under government control in northwestern Syria.

Just eight days later, the town of Saraqib – another locale which had served as a bastion against the Assad Government for many years – was captured. The following weeks saw more government advances including the full capture of the province of Aleppo for the first time since the outbreak of the civil war.

Russian airpower has been crucial to each pro-government advance. However, these military victories came at a catastrophic cost to civilians, in both Idlib and Aleppo. Heavily populated urban areas were pummelled before each incursion, with almost no respite for residents.

During the three months of the campaign, Russia was allegedly involved in 250 separate civilian harm incidents – averaging more than three events every day. These airstrikes led to between 423 and 556 civilian deaths and the injuring of up to 1,137 more, Airwars monitoring of local sources indicates. At least 128 children were killed during the campaign – more than a quarter of all tracked fatalities – showing that the most vulnerable often bore the brunt of a ruthless air campaign.

Additionally, crucial civilian infrastructure was hit numerous times. Schools were targeted on at least 15 occasions, while hospitals and medical centres were struck at least nine times. This targeting of civilian infrastructure by Assad and Russia was not new. According to the World Health Organisation, there have been 83 attacks on healthcare facilities in Syria since April 2019.

The Idlib campaign triggered a widespread displacement crisis in northern Syria. By the end of the assault, at least 980,000 people, most of them women and children, were forced to flee the violence. According to Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, these displaced people were struggling to survive in what he described as “horrific conditions”.

Tank rolling through ruins in Maarat Numan (via Oleg Blokhin).

Impact of Covid-19

The fighting in Idlib eventually stopped after Turkey escalated its own operations against pro-Assad government forces, following a devastating airstrike on a Turkish infantry battalion on the road between al-Bara and Balyun, which had left 32 Turkish soldiers dead and many others wounded.

Following this event, Ankara took the bold decision to intervene directly on the side of the rebels. The ferociousness of Turkey’s intervention was unprecedented, with Turkish forces launching a barrage of attacks on pro-regime positions, destroying dozens of military vehicles, equipment and several Russian-made air defence systems. These attacks devastated the Syrian Government, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that 170 pro-regime forces died. Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar put the toll far higher – claiming that Turkish forces had destroyed two Syrian Su-24 fighter jets, two drones, 135 tanks, and five air defence systems; and had “neutralised” more than 2,500 fighters loyal to the Syrian government.

The risk of being embroiled in an all-out confrontation with Turkey forced the hands of both the Syrian and Russian governments, and prompted a formal ceasefire agreement between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladmir Putin of Russia. While the eventual ceasefire provided a much-needed respite for civilians in northwestern Syria, millions continued to suffer from the after-effects of the brutal campaign. And with the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of abating in the region, refugees from the violence in Syria, clustered into overcrowded camps, may remain most at risk of suffering from the virus.

Khlebnikov at RIAC says he does not, however, think the Covid-19 crisis was the main driver of the ceasefire: “I wouldn’t say it is a game-changer or a strong factor in this ceasefire. The Ukraine crisis did not impact Russia’s foreign policy, even though the economy was under great distress. So why would Covid-19? It might affect the intensity of the conflict in the long run, and it slows things down because diplomats and leaders are unable to meet in person.”

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a Syria expert, agrees: “I don’t think the Covid-19 crisis impacted the calculations of the warring parties in this conflict.”

That the ceasefire has lasted following the Covid-19 outbreak might seem paradoxical, given that both Russia and Turkey recently increased their involvement in Libya. However, those contributions are relatively small for now, compared to Syria. That said, the conflict in Libya has become both interlinked with Syria – with Russia and Turkey again on opposite sides – and also a continuation of the civil war on different soil, as Syrian mercenaries recruited by both Turkey and Russia now fight each other in the Maghreb. Talks between Moscow and Ankara to explore a deal that might see the fates of Syria and Libya connected have been put off for now.

Disinfectant teams battling Covid-19 working in Northern and Eastern Syria (via Rojava Information Center).

“Costs of violating the ceasefire are much higher now”

Previous Syria ceasefires have been fairly short-lived. So why is the Idlib pause still holding more than three months on? “The situation on the ground is different from two years ago. Idlib is now the only lasting stronghold of opposition armed groups and terrorists. And a ceasefire during a civil war, it is not a literal thing. There are certain violations,” asserts Khlebnikov.

According to his own estimates, there were 80 violations of the ceasefire in the first half of May. Even so, Khlebnikov sees the ceasefire as quite successful: “Since March 5th, the violence fell significantly. The first [joint Russian and Turkish] patrols were 5 or 7 kilometres long, now they are 45 kilometres long. This builds trust; and the Russian and Turkish militaries are getting used to interacting with each other on hostile ground. That creates a certain restraint for [other] armed groups to escalate.”

Mangott also views the results of the ceasefire as so far positive: “I think it will last. Russia is in a difficult economic and financial situation, the GDP will drop by 10% this year. There will probably be a drop in military spending. The current spending priority is on social causes [at home] to take care of the economic crisis, so there is no money for an escalation in Syria.”

In mid June there were some reports of violations of the ceasefire, with Russian airstrikes on Idlib and reports of civilian casualties. These appeared to be in retaliation for attempts by the HTS to seize several villages, and attack Russian targets, however. Dr Elizabeth Tsurkov remains positive: “This is the first time in the history of ceasefires in Syria when Russia and the regime will be punished for violating it. Turkish drones will be up the skies, killing soldiers. The costs will be much higher for them. It is difficult to make predictions, because there are too many uncertain factors right now, also looking at the elections in the US coming up. But I think the ceasefire will last for the rest of 2020.”

Tsurkov adds: “The area north of the M4 highway will remain out of regime hands for the foreseeable future. Until a deal is reached, the area will essentially be annexed into Turkey. We are already seeing the dynamics of that in northern Aleppo.”

Amplifying fears in Damascus of a de facto annexation, in mid June Turkish-backed opposition groups introduced the Turkish Lira and the US dollar as local currencies in cities and towns across Idlib governorate in an effort, they claimed, to stabilise the local economy after the ongoing depreciation of the Syrian pound.

Russia’s endgame in Syria 

Whenever it might end, Khlebnikov sees the ongoing ceasefire between Russia, the regime and Turkey in northern Syria as a temporary solution: “It is definitely not a final solution. There are two options with the ceasefire: it will be cancelled, or updated. I don’t think there will be any major breaches.”

“On the other hand, there is a certain risk of escalation, because if Turkey won’t be able to deliver on its promises to clear the buffer zone, that may become a legitimate reason for Russia and the Syrian army to launch operations.” But, warns Khlebnikov: “In the last four months, Turkey allocated about 15.000 troops and upped military equipment. It is amassing its forces in Idlib. Any fight with Turkey will be a disaster for Russia.”

With a mass outbreak of the Covid-19 virus still threatening Syria – with its heavily weakened health care system after nearly a decade of war – a fight between Russia and Turkey on Syrian territory would not only carry great risk for Moscow. It is likely that Syrian civilians would bear the greatest losses, once again.

▲ Russia patrol in northern Syria (via Rojava News Network).

Published

May 26, 2020

Written by

Laurie Treffers and Oliver Imhof

Airwars and design partners Rectangle are commemorating those civilians killed and injured in conflicts, by livestreaming over 24 hours the names of 8,337 civilian casualties the international monitor has documented in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Somalia in recent years.

The digital event marks the occasion of the UN’s 2020 Protection of Civilians Week.

Every name has a story

Over twenty-four hours starting at midnight London time on May 26th/27th – the date of the UN Secretary General’s annual Protection of Civilians (PoC)  speech –  the names of just some of the many civilians reportedly killed by air and artillery strikes in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia since 2007 will be livestreamed on our website and YouTube channel.

Khaled Mustafa Qurmo and Khaled Abdel Majid were about to drop off their friend Barakat Barakat at his home in October 2019. The three friends were eating pumpkin seeds while driving through Barisha in northwestern Syria when they were reportedly hit by helicopters searching for ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.

“There were so many shells falling on us, it was like rain. My hand, the one holding up Khaled’s head, got cut off,” Barakat explained to NPR last year. “Am I Baghdadi? How is this my fault? I’m just a civilian. I didn’t have any weapons. We’re farmers. I make less than a dollar a day. Now I’m handicapped, and my two friends are in their graves.”

Barakat Barakat is just one of 8,337 civilian casualties over the past 13 years whose names Airwars has recorded while monitoring conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Somalia.

UN Protection of Civilians Week 2020

Through its daily monitoring of local news organisations, social media and official sources, as well as via sources on the ground, Airwars has in total recorded over 119,000 reported civilian deaths and injuries since we began documenting conflicts in August 2014 – of which more than eight thousand casualties attributed to specific belligerents can presently be named.

This UN PoC Week, Airwars aims to commemorate those who have lost their lives, while calling for governments to better account for their military actions.

The project Conflicting Truth is in partnership with the Scottish-American design team Rectangle, who also produce the complex mapping and data representations on the Airwars website.

This week’s live cast is based on an original installation by Rectangle with Sophie Dyer, first shown in Detroit in March 2019. It had been hoped to show Conflicting Truth in New York during this year’s UN PoC Week. Instead, due to the Covid-19 crisis, the decision was taken to livecast a digital version.

Rimas and Shahem Hamdou with their father Hamza al Haj Hamdou. The children were killed in an alleged Russian strike in Thalatheen Street in Idlib city on March 3rd 2020 (image courtesy of the Syrian Network for Human Rights)

Not just numbers

The Airwars/ Rectangle project seeks to show that those killed and injured in conflict are not mere statistics –  they are people with names, friends and families. Their loss inflicts severe pain on relatives, and the communities they belong to.

“I was washing dishes. Suddenly our house was filled with shrapnel. I went out and called Arif (my son), but I did not see him. I only saw black smoke. When the smoke faded away, I saw my son on the ground as a martyr,” said a mother whose son Arif was among eight other children reportedly killed in alleged Turkish shelling on Tal Rifaat in Syria on December 2nd, 2019.

The suffering often does not end with losing loved ones or seeing them disabled: it also heavily impacts the lives of those spared by the fighting. “All a young man like me cares about now is how he gets home safe every day. Or when you go to bed, all you’re thinking about is the possibility that a rocket falls on you,” Marwan, a resident of the southern suburbs of the Libyan capital Tripoli recently told Airwars. “I lost friends, relatives, loved ones in this war,” he elaborates. “I’m doing an MA now, and I’m afraid to lose my dream, and my future and I can’t do anything. That makes me want to run away, to live a decent life with equal opportunities.”

Airwars aims to add as many biographical details of victims as possible. On May 16th of this year for example, the 5-year-old Bangladeshi boy Wahi Zuhair Matin was killed in alleged LNA artillery strikes on Al Fornaj neighbourhood in Tripoli. The GNA-affiliated Burkan Al Ghadab Operation wrote on Facebook that the child’s “ambition was to buy a bike and play ‘like the kids’.”

Civil Society Call for Action

Airwars is also joining with other international partners and organisations in a Civil Society Call for Action to Protect Civilians during PoC week. The joint statement signed by 22 organisations calls on the UN Security Council, Member States, and the UN System to take urgent, bold and practical steps to respond to the challenges that remain in the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

The UN Security Council added the protection of civilians in armed conflict (PoC) to its agenda in 1999, recognising PoC as a matter of international peace and security. The UN PoC Week is held annually between May 27th and June 1st. The United Nations celebrates UN Peacekeeping Day on May 29th.

▲ The original physical installation Conflicting Truth was shown in Detroit in March 2019, and was developed by Rectangle with Sophie Dyer. It features the names of civilian victims preserved in the Airwars database. (Image courtesy of Rectangle)

Published

March 23, 2020

Written by

Laurie Treffers

Airwars learns that another Coalition ally had refused to conduct deadly Hawijah strike

Newly declassified documents released by the Dutch Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, and the Netherlands Public Prosecutor’s Office, have revealed a number of disturbing facts about Dutch airstrikes on Hawijah and Mosul in 2015 which killed dozens of civilians.

The previously secret documents show, for example, that the Dutch military official with a potential veto over its strikes – known as the Red Card Holder – was aware even before the airstrike on Hawijah in June 2015, which led to the deaths of approximately 70 civilians according to locals, that the expected damage from the strike could in fact be greater than the Collateral Damage Estimate (CDE) was indicating.

At least one other ally within the US-led Coalition had refused to conduct the Hawijah strike based on the available intelligence, Airwars has recently learned.

In December 2019, Airwars submitted a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request to the Dutch Ministry of Defence, requesting publication of the MoD’s own investigation into the bombing of an ISIS IED factory in Hawijah, Iraq, on the night of June 2nd- 3rd 2015. The airstrike caused significant secondary explosions, leading to the deaths of at least 70 civilians.

After withholding their role in this deadly event from the Dutch public for nearly five years, the government eventually took public responsibility in November 2019. In addition, the Dutch Ministry of Defence admitted conducting a controversial airstrike on a family home in Mosul in September 2015, in which four civilians were killed.

Collateral Damage Estimate

The Dutch MoD has now released its own additional investigation into the Hawijah case, which was finalised on June 30th 2016.

The document – mostly unredacted –  reveals that the Dutch Red Card Holder, the representative in the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar with the option of vetoing actions which fell outside Dutch rules of engagement, was aware that the potential damage could be greater than the Collateral Damage Estimation, or CDE, was indicating.

The report states that the possibility of secondary explosions was taken into account during the planning phase by analysing previous attacks on similar targets. The report reads: “It was concluded that the expected collateral damage could be greater than the CDE indicated, but that this expected collateral damage would not extend beyond the industrial complex and that there would therefore only be material damage at night. This damage was then assessed by the Dutch Red Card Holder (RCH) as not excessive in relation to the expected military advantage.”

Airwars recently learned from a senior (non-Dutch) military official with knowledge of events that at least one other allied military within the Coalition had refused the Hawijah strike, implying that the potential risk to civilians was expected to be too high.

Excerpt of the additional investigation into the Hawijah bombing by the Dutch MoD, stating that the risk of destruction at Hawijah might be greater than the Collateral Damage Assessment was indicating.

The time of the attack had been moved “to the night hours (midnight local time) to minimise the chance of civil traffic and the presence of citizens”. However, the same report also states that the execution of the mission caused collateral damage to more than 400 buildings in the area – and that the secondary explosions that the Dutch airstrike triggered were not expected in either the targeting process, or the actual implementation of the strike. An internal Ministry of Foreign Affairs email reports that on June 4th 2015, a Coalition calculation “shows that there was probably more than 18,060 kilos of explosives stored, making this the largest ISIS IED factory ever.”

The only time the released investigation mentions civilian casualties is in its final sentence, which states that “there is a likely chance that the airstrike led to civilian casualties, but this cannot be additionally proven”. This was despite the fact that just days after the incident, respected media including Reuters were already reporting 70 civilian deaths.

The newly released emails also reveal that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in confidential contact with the International Committee of the Red Cross about civilian casualties in the weeks following the airstrike. At the time, ICRC is said to have estimated the number of civilian fatalities in Hawijah to be as high as 170.

While the Dutch Ministry of Defence has continuously insisted that victims of Dutch airstrikes should turn to the Iraqi authorities for compensation, a 2014 internal document describing the procedure for minimising and reporting civilian casualties states that the Netherlands itself should assess incidents of civilian casualties individually for possible compensation, as there were no standard procedure. The document notes that “in the case of CIVCAS [civilian casualties] by NLD, compensation schemes will be established. There is no treaty with Iraq that includes possible claims for damages, nor is there any expectation that a treaty will come.”

Despite this, until now there has been no known effort by the Dutch Ministry of Defence to contact civilian survivors of Dutch airstrikes. On March 6th, a survivor of the Mosul strike which killed four close family members and destroyed two homes, Mr. Basim Razzo, filed a lawsuit against the Dutch government for two million US dollars.

“A perfect target and a perfect hit”

In response to additional FOIA requests by Dutch news organisations NOS and NRC, the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs have released additional internal documents and emails related to the Hawijah incident. These clearly indicate a lack of urgency or apparent concern among officials, despite the known high civilian death toll.

On June 4th for example, two days after the Hawijah incident, a Dutch official on secondment to CENTCOM emailed the MoD that “initial analysis of footage of the strike itself has shown that nothing unusual has taken place, apart from the secondary explosions.” That “nothing unusual had taken place” claim is far removed from the accounts eyewitnesses gave of the incident, some of whom compared the event to the city being “hit by a nuclear bomb”. In another email, a Dutch official based at CENTCOM writes: “A perfect target and a perfect hit, that’s what people are talking about here.”

On June 6th 2015, an internal email within the Ministry of Defence reads: “Yes, no particularities. All went well on our side. Do not expect any attention from the Public Prosecutor’s Office.” While the Ministry was clearly aware of media reports of more than 70 civilian deaths – they shared, for example a Daily Star article, now offline, mentioning 74 civilian deaths – internally on June 5th, none of the released emails express urgent concern about civilian harm.

Public Prosecutor’s investigation: slow and incomplete

The Hawijah case did eventually receive attention from the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office (OM), in order to assess whether international humanitarian law had been complied with. The OM has also now released emails and internal documents related to its investigations into the Hawijah and Mosul airstrikes, following FOIA requests by both NRC and NOS.

However, the actual investigations remain classified. Even so, Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld has continuously referred to the OM Hawijah investigation during parliamentary debates. Bijleveld answered critical questions by MPs on her Ministry’s lack of transparency during a parliamentary debate on November 5th, 2019, for example, by stating that “the OM has concluded that [the bombing of Hawijah] was done lawfully” and that she trusted the OM to be a legitimate and independent institution.

The released though heavily redacted documentation indicates, however, that the OM was not investigating the lawfulness of the Hawijah action, as there was no suspicion of punishable criminal behaviour, but was instead conducting a fact-finding mission – intended to gather information about possible civilian casualties. Based on written responses from OM, NOS has reported that the fact-finding mission also started more than nine months after the incident itself, since it was only in March 2016 that the OM was informed by the Ministry of Defence about possible civilian casualties.

NRC and NOS also reported that the two pilots involved in the airstrike were only interviewed fifteen months after the incident. This is striking, because the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office was previously rebuked by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014 due to serious deficit in the Jaloud case, in which a civilian was shot dead by a Dutch soldier in Iraq in 2004. The ECHR criticised the OM for waiting six hours to interview the involved soldier, giving the soldier the time to “construct his own version of the truth”. In the case of Hawijah, it took fifteen months before involved military personnel were interviewed.

In addition to the OM investigation into Hawijah being very late, its scope was also limited. NRC reports that the OM was dependent solely upon information from Dutch military personnel. The US military also declined to cooperate, because this was a fact-finding assessment, and not an investigation into criminal acts, the declassified emails show.

The OM additionally published a previously secret MoD document providing guidance for  Dutch participation in the fight against ISIS, which indicates that guidelines were likely breached in the case of Hawijah. One states that “attacks on targets in the vicinity of densely populated areas should be avoided as much as possible,” while another notes that “all reasonable precautions should be taken to avoid wounding or killing civilians or causing damage to civilian objects.” It is unclear why this documentation was missing in the MoD’s own released records.

Excerpt of the previously classified “NLP Targeting Directives ATFME”

Victim of Mosul airstrike sues Dutch government

The newly declassified documents also reveal new information about a Dutch airstrike on Mosul in 2015, in which Mr. Basim Razzo lost his wife, daughter, brother and nephew. The pilot responsible for executing that attack recently revealed to Dutch journalists that months after the airstrike, it became clear that what they thought was an ISIS headquarters, was, in fact, a family home. The MoD’s own investigation, finalised on June 30th, 2016, nevertheless concluded that “given all the available information, there is a chance that the two villas were not a military target and that, while carrying out the mission aimed at ISIS headquarters on 20 September 2015, possible civilian casualties have fallen, but this cannot be substantiated.”

The report added that “the two villas may have been incorrectly identified by the CAOC as a legitimate military objective. This is the subject of research by the CAOC, in which the Netherlands is not involved.” The CENTCOM CIVCAS allegation closure report – dated February 13th 2017 and obtained by Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal for their New York Times investigation The Uncounted, states that the intelligence for the mission was based on “only 1h 35 mins of FMV [full motion video]… collected over three different days”.

The erroneous conclusion that the house was an ISIS headquarters was based on the fact that there were no women and children seen around the property in the 95 minutes of footage, and that a person was observed opening the drive gate for cars. Mr. Razzo has stated in several interviews that his wife and daughter did not come outside because ISIS forced them to cover themselves and because it was over 40 degrees Celsius during the day at the time, and that both he or his brother would open the gates for visiting cars.

Instead of being informed by their own MoD of civilian casualties in the airstrike, the OM only started their own investigation into the Mosul case after Mr. Razzo’s relative, Professor Zareena Grewal, published an opinion piece about the case in the New York Times in October 2015.

The newly released documents additionally reveal that twice, requests from the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office for interviews with key witnesses in the Mosul case (presumably military officials) were denied by other nations. One response simply stated that “such interview cannot be arranged”. Another email insisted that the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between their respective two countries only allowed for assistance when a criminal investigation was being prepared or was expected, and not in the case of a fact-finding mission.

One of the witness examination requests that was denied by another involved country

On March 6th 2020, Mr. Razzo filed a lawsuit against the Dutch government for two million US dollar. In an accompanying letter, his lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld – who is also preparing a legal case in name of Hawijah victims – writes to the Ministry of Defence that “given the very limited and conflicting intelligence, the Netherlands should have declined to execute the strike.” The MoD was given three weeks to respond to the claim.

▲ Library image: A Dutch F-16 pilot checking missiles before take-off from an airbase in Jordan (Netherlands defence ministry)