REPUBLIC OF IRAQ: Fears for safety of civilians caught in crossfire and used by IS as human shields

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3 Nov 2016
[International Secretariat]

Military operations to retake Mosul and the surrounding areas from the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) are endangering civilians who are being caught in the crossfire or in some cases being used as human shields by IS fighters, said Amnesty International from northern Iraq.

The organization’s research team met with civilians displaced from their homes in villages north of Mosul in recent days who are now in Zelikan and Khazer camps, in areas controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and conducted phone interviews with people still trapped under IS control, gathering fresh evidence pointing to civilian deaths and injuries during in recent days.

“With more than a million people believed to be still trapped in Mosul and its outskirts, the risks to civilians are sky high. IS’s utter disregard for the safety of civilians and their apparently deliberate use of human shields is putting people trapped in areas of active conflict at even greater risk, as Iraqi forces advance,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Research at the Beirut Regional Office.

By 26 October, more than 10,500 people had been displaced since the launch of coalition military operations to retake Mosul, while up to 1.5 million people are believed to remain trapped in Mosul and its outskirts.

IS use of human shields

Some civilians who managed to flee the fighting or whose villages had been recaptured by government forces told Amnesty International that IS fighters had deliberately prevented them from fleeing areas of conflict.

“Using civilians to shield yourself from attack is a war crime. But even in cases when IS fighters are holding civilians as human shields, this does not absolve Iraqi and coalition forces from the obligation to take their presence into account.

Civilians caught in the crossfire

Residents of Tab Zawa told Amnesty International that IS fighters used both vacant and occupied villagers’ homes and rooftops to carry out their attacks.

Civilians in some villages were also caught in crossfire. A man told Amnesty International that his 17-year-old-brother sustained a gunshot wound to the leg while at home during clashes between IS and Kurdish armed forces) on 22 October.

“IS fighters were based in our neighbour’s house and fired from there. After my brother was shot, we remained trapped inside the house while fighting was ongoing, and just tried to stop the bleeding… After two days, he was losing consciousness and could no longer control his body movements. We took the opportunity of an airstrike on Daesh [Arabic acronym for IS] and ran for our lives carrying him, until we met the Peshmerga. He is in the hospital in Dohuk now,” he said.

Some 70 people had gathered in one house at the northern edge of the village when mortars struck at about 1pm, according to witnesses. The 13-year-old boy died immediately as a result of head wounds and three children, aged between four and 13, were injured.

In some cases, IS fighters forced civilians from villages south of Mosul to move to areas under their control as they retreated from Iraqi forces’ attacks. Local officials, activists and a resident of al-Qayyara district, who was able to speak to Amnesty International over the phone from an IS-controlled area, said that civilians were kept in schools, homes and other locations near IS fighters in Hamam Al-Alil after being forced to move from their homes further south.

27 October 2016

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