The fight to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul was one of the last and most significant victories in the Iraqi army and U.S.-led coalition’s offensive against the Islamic State. But it came at a cost far greater than originally understood.
The nine-month battle, which saw heavy airstrikes and guerrilla warfare in a densely populated city, resulted in the deaths of 9,000 to 11,000 civilians, a casualty rate at least ten times higher than previously reported, according to an investigation by the Associated Press.
Between October 2016 and July 2017, Iraqi or U.S.-led coalition forces were responsible for at least a third of those deaths, according to AP’s findings. ISIS was responsible for about another third of the casualties, and the cause of the remaining third is unknown.
The U.S. coalition officially acknowledges responsibility for 326 civilian casualties.
The AP analyzed the city's morgue reports and corroborated them with independent monitors and NGOs that tracked the battle. Hundreds of Iraqis are still believed to be buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings.
The U.S.-led coalition accelerated its bombing of Mosul in December as ISIS’s defeat drew closer. The escalation coincided with a loosening in the rules of engagement, allowing U.S. battlefield commanders to order strikes at a faster rate. Further complicating matters was the Islamic State’s tactic of using civilians as shields, deliberately hiding in hospitals, markets, and schools, and making it more difficult to avoid collateral damage.
Responding to the report, Lynn Maalouf, the head of research for Amnesty International in the Middle East said in a statement that “the failure of Iraqi and coalition forces to acknowledge and investigate civilian deaths in Mosul is a blatant abdication of responsibility.”
“We are demanding transparency and an honest public account of the true cost to civilians from this war, as well as an immediate investigation by US-led coalition and Iraqi forces into the violations and unlawful attacks documented by Amnesty International and other independent groups during the battle for Mosul,” Maalouf added.