Local sources said that three civilians were killed when Coalition airstrikes targeted Al Qa’im district, in the west of Anbar province. A senior official unofficially told Airwars the strike was conducted by Belgium.
On April 30th 2017 the Coalition accepted responsibility: “Feb. 27, 2017, near Al Qaim, Iraq, via self-report: During a strike on ISIS fighters in a moving vehicle, it was assessed that one civilian was unintentionally killed and one civilian unintentionally injured in another moving vehicle that came into the proximity of the target vehicle at the time of the attack.” In July 2019, the Coalition provided Airwars with the location of this incident, accurate to within a 100 metre box.
Just after the Coalition’s admission of responsibility, a senior Belgian official told Airwars that Brussels was likely involved in a civilian casualty incident resulting from a strike in Al Qaim, Iraq, on February 27th 2017. Airwars was also told about another Belgian incident, in Mosul on 21st March, which was still under investigation by the Coalition at the time though was also deemed credible.
In an interview in 2017 with Airwars, Colonel J. Poesen, head of operations at the Belgian Air Force said that Brussels disagreed with the Coalition’s assessment of the February 27th incident at al Qaim: “We do not agree with that analysis and we are also convinced that it is not right,” Poesen told Airwars on July 6th. He also suggested that Coalition officials had been “quite quick” in their assessment of the al Qaim incident.
Belgium’s refusal to accept responsibility for any civilian deaths it has been implicated in may relate to its apparent insistence that only cases which might violate international law should be investigated. According to Colonel Poesen, all incidents reported to the national Public Prosecutor have so far been been declared not to have violated international law and so had been filed without further follow-up.
Poesen went on to say that “even if there were to be casualties, it would be completely in line with the rules of engagement and the pilot would not have been guilty.” In a press statement on July 6th Colonel Poulsen also repeated Belgium’s denial that any civilians had been hurt in either Iraq or Syria: “We can proudly state that we are achieving all of our goals. Our objective of 100% mission effectiveness, without civilian casualties, continues to be the reality,” he said.
Such remarks have implied that only incidents which potentially breached international humanitarian law might be investigated. This would place Belgium at odds with the Coalition, which has indicated that all civilian deaths so far admitted in Iraq and Syria have resulted from lawful – if unfortunate – actions.
In March 2020, Airwars and De Morgen published an investigation revealing that Belgium was refusing to accept responsibility for civilian harm in this and other events.
Asked to say whether its aircraft were responsible for officially declared civilian harm in up to nine incidents, the Belgian Ministry of Defence told Airwars by email: “For the year 2017, BAF [Belgian Armed Forces] was certainly not involved in all events. With regard to the other data given, BAF was no longer present in theatre. BAF completed its role at the end of 2017. Our conclusion is that all ROEs [rules of engagement] were respected as confirmed by our federal court.”
The local time of the incident is unknown.
Sources (8) [ collapse]
Prior to the Coalition releasing the MGRS for this incident, Airwars had geolocated it to the nearest city at 34.3957715, 40.9943684
US-led Coalition Assessment:
Civilian casualty statements
Apr 30, 2017
During a strike on ISIS fighters in a moving vehicle, it was assessed that one civilian was unintentionally killed and one civilian unintentionally injured in another moving vehicle that came into the proximnity of the target vehicle at the time of the attack.
Original strike reports
For February 26-27th the Coalition did not report any strikes in Al Qa’im.