Erbil – The Islamic State (ISIS) has intentionally endangered civilians, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The human rights NGO said that ISIS attacks from populated areas, mines civilian structures, and prevents civilians from fleeing conflict zones.
“Forces attacking ISIS should take all necessary measures to minimize harm to civilians, particularly those that ISIS forces may have deliberately placed at risk,” HRW said on Sunday. On October 17, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army launched an operation to retake Mosul city.
“Thousands of civilians are at risk because of military operations in Mosul and Hawija, and all sides are obliged to let families reach safety,” said Lama Fakih, HRW’s deputy Middle East director. “ISIS needs to let people leave and anti-ISIS forces should take into account the many civilians trapped in areas under attack.”
However, it’s unlikely that ISIS will allow civilians to leave since that would allow Kurdish and Iraqi forces to take Mosul more quickly. It could also simplify the application of US rules of engagement and thereby facilitate coalition airstrikes. In other operations, including Manbij, ISIS used civilians as human shields to slow down their adversaries.
One displaced villager, Ali Ahmed, on October 20 told HRW that ISIS jihadists billeted in his house when they fought Iraqi security forces. “As the [Iraqi] army got closer, three ISIS fighters entered my house. I couldn’t tell them to leave my house because they could have killed me and hurt my family. Thank God my house was not targeted,” he said.
While civilians are always exposed in warfare, combatants are supposed to limit that exposure. The would-be Caliphates has instead systematised its use of human shields. ISIS militants do not allow men to flee, and women and children are only allowed to leave if they pay $400 per person.
20 residents from ISIS-held villages in Iraq’s Makhmur District told HRW that fighters were firing artillery next to their homes, subjecting them to return fire. Also, ISIS has reportedly deployed fighters in schools and hospitals.
Mohammed, an Iraqi civilian, said that in order to leave Hawija city he had to pay smugglers $500. Otherwise, he could have stumbled into the mines that ISIS planted around the city.
Improvised mines planted by ISIS have posed a significant threat to civilians in other places that were under ISIS control, including Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq, and Kobane and Manbij in Syria.
HRW’s Fakih said: “Even if ISIS keeps its unlawful grip on civilians trying to flee the fighting, other military forces should fulfill their obligations to civilians under the laws of war.”
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