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Iraq to stop shelling civilian areas, says PM

Iraq’s Prime Minister has called on the country’s armed forces to stop shelling populated areas as they seek to recapture territory lost to Islamic State militants, known as Isis.

Speaking at a conference for the thousands of Iraqis who have been forcibly displaced in the wave of violence that has swept the country this year, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said “I have ordered the Iraqi Air Force the halt shelling of civilian areas, even in those towns controlled by Isis.”

The major cities of Fallujah, Tikrit, Ramadi and Mosul are among those that have fallen under at least partial Isis control in 2014. Densely-populated, home to hundreds of thousands, these cities have seen a massive collective exodus as families fled first the approaching militants, and then the army’s heavy-handed response. Just two weeks ago, a government air strike hit a school housing displaced people near Tikrit. At least 31 civilians, including 24 children were killed.

The Iraqi military has repeatedly deployed explosive weapons in populated areas as they try to battle the militant presence. As AOAV’s data shows, it is a strategy that has frequently come at great cost to residents and civilians.

In the first half of the year, AOAV recorded more than 1,962 deaths and injuries from air strikes, mortars, and heavy artillery. More than two-thirds (69%) were civilians. Between January and June 2014, AOAV has recorded;

  • 1,357 civilian casualties from manufactured explosive ordnance in Iraq (426 fatalities, and 931 injuries).
  • The majority of these were caused by ground-launched weapons like mortars and artillery (69%).
  • When manufactured explosive ordnance was used in populated areas, 82% were civilians. This compares to just 18% of the casualties when these weapons were deployed in other locations.

Last week’s announcement from Prime Minister Abadi won support from one of the biggest political coalitions in Iraq, as well as the UN’s Special Representative in Iraq.

AOAV also welcomes this announcement, and urges the government armed forces of Iraq to make sure that that this positive public commitment is borne out through action. That the day after Abadi’s order the Iraqi army shelled a hospital in Fallujah that was under partial Isis control is an inauspicious sign that the Iraqi government is prepared to turn good words into good deeds.

Iraqi armed forces must refrain from using heavy explosive weapons in populated areas. These are weapons which can affect a wide-area with blast and fragmentation. They have, and will continue, to cause death and injury to civilians if they continue to be deployed within populated areas. This week’s announcement is an encouraging signal to restraint, and should be seen as a benchmark for future behaviour of armed forces in Iraq.