Iraqi government accused of barrel bombing ISIS-held Falluja
BAGHDAD - The Iraqi Air Force dropped deadly barrel bombs on the Islamic State-held city of Falluja, killing dozens of people and wounding more than 200, Sunni tribal leaders, residents and medical officials said.
Medical officials at a Falluja hospital said at least 79 people, including 20 children and nine women, were killed, and 212 others wounded in barrel bomb attacks that began June 18th and continued through early July.
The makeshift bombs — oil drums packed with explosives and shrapnel — have killed or wounded thousands of Syrians since the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad began using them in 2012.
Humanitarian groups estimate that more than 25,000 people have been killed by barrel bombs in Syria through early 2015. Human Rights Watch says the use of such indiscriminate weapons, some large enough to destroy a city block, constitutes a war crime.
Falluja residents said barrel bombs were dropped there after Iraqi lawmaker Qassem al-Aaraji labelled the city the “head of the snake”. He told parliament on June 2nd, “All the population there is affiliated with ISIS (an Islamic State acronym) and should be wiped out totally.”
According to YouTube videos posted by activists, the Shia-dominated Iraqi government has used barrel bombs against several cities in its war against ISIS, which controls about one-third of the country. Mosul, Taiji and Tikrit, all battlefronts in the war against ISIS since mid-2014, have been hit several times.
Activists say the home-made bombs are usually dropped at night to evade being recorded on video.
On June 1st, Sunni tribal leaders reported that at least 12 civilians were killed and 29 wounded, including women and children, when Iraqi aircraft dropped five barrel bombs on a residential district of Falluja.
Mohammed Taei, a retired university professor of international law, said the Baghdad government is using barrel bombs “because they’re cheaper than missiles and can inflict more severe damage to the areas they strike”.
Iraqi government officials did not return repeated calls from The Arab Weekly asking for comment. However, on May 12, 2014, the Baghdad government denied using barrel bombs and said it was fighting “in a humane way”.
On July 7th, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office, in a statement, refuted allegations that the army randomly targeted civilian areas but made no mention of barrel bombs. “The Council of Ministers is keen to protect civilian lives in conflict zones and provide them with safe passages to exit those areas,” the statement said.
“The government is lying up to its teeth if it tries to deny that barrel bombs were used here,” a physician who treated recent casualties said by telephone from Baghdad. “We see barrels showered down from the sky every day,” he said, declining to be identified because of fears for his safety.