The Netherlands has again been linked to an air strike that killed civilians in Iraq during the war against IS. This according to research by NOS, Nieuwsuur and NRC, supported by data from NGO Airwars. It is the third case in which information about Dutch involvement has been published. This previously happened with the bombing in the Iraqi city of Hawija in which at least 85 civilians were killed and around an airstrike on Mosul in 2015 in which four civilians were killed.
This morning it was announced that a Dutch airstrike on a residential building in the Iraqi city of Mosul on 22 March 2016, killed at least seven civilians, including a three-year-old girl. The US military command (CENTCOM) initially declared it unlikely that civilian deaths would have occurred in the Dutch attack, despite information indicating otherwise. As a result, the Netherlands was never officially informed at the time about civilian casualties, but did not actively request it itself either.
More civilian deaths than known
NGOs such as Airwars and PAX have been reporting for years that the Western coalition probably caused many more civilian deaths than officially known so far, but dubious information makes this difficult to verify. For a long time the Ministry of Defense only reported on the number of airstrikes that had been deployed that week, not the exact location and time. This has only changed since this news was announced.
Taking responsibility immediately this time
‘It is important that responsibility is taken this time. Although the Netherlands previously acknowledged having caused civilian deaths in Hawija, apologies and official compensation have failed so far to materialize. Hopefully, the Netherlands will show better willingness to alleviate the suffering of the survivors this time,’ said Erin Bijl, expert Protection of Civilians at PAX. She is currently involved on behalf of PAX in consultations with the Ministry of Defense that should lead to drawing up a better investigation and transparency policy for attacks involving civilian casualties.
After the news about ‘Hawija’ came out, organisations such as PAX, Utrecht University and Iraqi NGO Al-Ghad had to take the initiative to investigate, detailing the short- and long-term consequences of the Dutch actions. ‘It is good that Minister Ollongren this time announced to investigate this matter further,’ she said. In response to the news the ministry of Defense published an overview on Thursday of the nearly 2,200 times F16s were deployed in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2018. This information makes it easier to investigate and verify the deployment and its impact on civilians.
Following this, PAX calls for a wider independent investigation – based on this data – on Dutch involvement in attacks that may have resulted in fatal civilian casualties and advocates the establishment of a civilian casualty fund through which the Netherlands can offer material compensation to civilians who have been victims of Dutch military action.