Thursday, May 15, 2014

Human Cost Of Government Shelling And Air Strikes On Iraq’s Fallujah

When speaking of the human cost of the fighting in Fallujah most of the attention has been upon the displaced. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration there were 72,325 displaced families in May 2014, two-thirds of which were still in Anbar. After that there has been some talk of the flooding that has occurred due to insurgents taking over the Fallujah dam. Little detailed attention has been given to the almost daily casualties that have been caused by government artillery, mortar and air strikes upon the city of Fallujah. Other than the daily casualty counts by international news services and the Iraqi press, this topic is rarely addressed. When looking at the statistics nearly half of the overall dead and wounded in Anbar since the fighting started there are due to these operations. Worse, it appears that much of this fire is indiscriminate rather than targeted strikes upon insurgent held areas of the city. This is another sign of the lack of professionalism and strategy by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), and a reason why they are struggling to maintain control of the country.

Government shelling and missile strikes upon Fallujah have taken a huge civilian toll. The fighting there started at the very end of 2013. The first report of civilian casualties at the hand of government indirect fire came on January 3, 2014 when medical officials in Anbar counted six dead and 87 wounded in four sections of the city. That was followed by 47 wounded by artillery, mortars, and air strikes on January 4, 1 killed and seven wounded on January 9, two wounded at Fallujah General Hospital by mortars on January 13, 12 dead and 24 wounded on January 16, 3 fatalities on January 17, and 1 killed and ten injured January 22. After that the casualties happened nearly every day. In total, there were 61 deaths and 341 injured due to government fire that month. This was 20% of the deaths and 46% of the wounded for January. In February there were reports of casualties from shelling 12 of 28 days resulting in 54 killed and 174 wounded, which was 29% of fatalities and 39% of the wounded. By March that climbed to 22 days out of 31 with 97 dead and 305 wounded, 28% of the fatalities and 48% of the injured. That increased again to 28 out of 31 days in April leaving 118 dead and 324 wounded the highest casualties of the year. They were also the highest percentage at 43% of deaths and 58% of the wounded. In May as military operations started in the towns surrounding Fallujah and the outskirts of the city casualties climbed to 125 killed and 244 injured, a whopping 66% of the former and 70% of the latter. Of the 1,285 reported deaths and 2,693 wounded in Anbar this year, 455 died due to ISF fire in Fallujah, and another 1,388 were injured as well. That was just under half of the total. While some of this fire was targeted at insurgent strong points, much of it was indiscriminate. That was why the civilian costs have been so high. It appeared that after the security forces surrounded the city they wanted to keep the pressure up by hitting it almost every day. The fact that they were not striking any militants didn’t seem to matter. This was one sign of the lack of military know how amongst the ISF, much of which is led by commanders who are political appointees by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or people who bought their commissions.

Casualties in Anbar 2014
In Anbar

Killed by Government Fire in Fallujah
Wounded by Government Fire in Fallujah

The huge number of casualties caused by military fire into Fallujah is just the latest sign that the Iraqi forces lack precession and professionalism. Any siege of a major city is going to cause collateral damage. Militaries usually try to lesson these costs however, because they need the support of the population to hold a city after it is cleared of insurgents. In the case of Fallujah it doesn’t appear that the Iraqi forces care about whom they are targeting or the possible repercussions. Government shelling has been a major reason why there has been such a huge number of displaced in Anbar. This callousness goes along with the current strategy of raids and mass arrests of not only people who are on wanted lists, but their families as well who are held as hostages if a specific individual cannot be found. These are all tactics that were tried and failed by the Americans in Iraq from 2003-2007. It wasn’t until the U.S. changed its strategy to counterinsurgency and placed an emphasis upon protecting the population, and working with locals to secure the country that the war took a turn for the better. The Iraqi forces were trained in these techniques, but have given them up. The loss of control of most of Anbar, sections of other provinces, and the re-birth and spread of the insurgency is the result.


Agence France Presse, "Iraq army presses Anbar assault as unrest kills six," 1/17/14

Ali, Ahmed, "Iraq Update #42: Al Qaeda in Iraq Patrols Fallujah; Aims for Ramadi, Mosul, Baghdad," Institute for the Study of War, 1/5/14

Berger, Richard and Truitte, Kevin, “Warning Intelligence Update: The ISF Shows Signs of Weakness in Anbar,” Institute for the Study of War, 4/15/14

Iraq Times, "18 killed and wounded, including women and children, by army bombing the city of Fallujah," 1/23/14
- "Army mortar attack on Fallujah kills one civilian and wounding seven others," 1/9/14

Al-Mada, "Wounding two civilians in the fall of a mortar shell near Fallujah General Hospital," 1/13/14

National Iraqi News Agency, "9 Civilians wounded in bombing Falluja," 1/4/14
- "13 Gunmen Killed and Others Wounded in Clashes on al-Anbar Borders with Baghdad," 1/22/14
- "Breaking News..Killing and Wounding /16/ Civilians, including women and children, by Bombing Fallujah," 1/16/14
- "Clashes Renewed Between the Army and Elements of Daash with the Participation of Combat Helicopters in Fallujah," 1/16/14
- "Urgent…Mortar shells on Fallujah, two killed and ten injured," 1/23/14

Radio Nawa, "Killing and wounding 10 civilians by mortars in Fallujah," 1/16/14

Reuters, "Iraqi army shells Falluja to try to dislodge militants," 1/4/14

U.N. Iraq, “Situation Report Anbar Humanitarian Crisis Report #: 23,” 5/8/14

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