On September 13, 2014 new Prime Minister Haider Abadi ordered the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to stop the shelling of civilian populations in urban areas. This had been an on going complaint by civilians, politicians and human rights groups with hundreds of people having been killed and wounded by artillery, mortar and missile strikes in several different provinces. Despite the announcement there have been three days straight of civilian casualties in Anbar due to government shelling.
The ISF has been hitting civilian areas for months now. The insurgent uprising in Anbar started at the very end of December 2013. Within a few days there were the first reports of civilian casualties in the province’s cities due to ISF shelling and bombing. January 3 6 were killed and 87 wounded by mortar fire on eastern Fallujah. The next day the city was hit by air strikes, mortar and artillery fire resulting in 47 people being injured. At the same time, ISF mortars hit Ramadi killing one and wounding 7. By the end of the month 85 people were dead and 446 wounded in Anbar by what became more and more indiscriminate fire. This was a leading cause for mass displacement within the governorate. Since then these types of attacks occur almost every day in the province. When the militant summer offensive began these government strikes were expanded to Ninewa, Salahaddin, Diyala and Kirkuk. Sunni politicians and human rights groups have complained about these attacks for the huge human costs. Militarily the shelling and bombardment have had no visible affect upon the insurgency. The vast majority of incidents appeared to be simply firing into insurgent held territory with little regard for who or what is hit.
Premier Abadi’s order to the ISF was an attempt to appease the Sunni population and politicians, but it has not been followed through with. From September 15 to 17 there has been daily shelling of Fallujah. September 15 6 people died and 22 were wounded. September 16 another 4 were killed and 21 injured, followed by 3 fatalities and 20 wounded the next day. The new prime minister knows that he has to win over disaffected Sunnis if he hopes to turn around the security situation. His announcement about shelling civilian areas therefore, was an early concession to show that his government would not be the same as the previous one. Unfortunately the Iraqi forces have not gotten the order.
A concession is only a concession if it is followed through with. Premier Abadi’s order to stop hitting civilian populations was a necessary one. There is no military value gained from the tactic, and the costs have been huge. The ISF however has not stopped the shelling of Fallujah. The fact that this happened three days straight pointed to this not being some kind of mistake. The ISF also denied hitting Fallujah hospital the day after Abadi’s pledge showing that they know about his pronouncement. This is not a good start to the new Iraqi government as the prime minister has so many challenges in front of him with seemingly so little time to achieve them. As commander and chief he has the authority to stop the practice of targeting civilian areas meaning his announcement was just for show, it has not gotten through the chain of command or he’s not being followed. It would seem that the premier’s words were for propaganda purposes. That needs to change if Abadi is going to make any kind of mark in the country.
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Yacoub, Sameer, “UN: More than 140,000 Iraqis flee Anbar violence,” Associated Press, 1/24/14