Al Jazeera America – 2014-05-12 01:25:53
Deadly Barrel Bombs Reportedly Hitting Fallujah
Alleged attacks by Shia-led government on civilians come as Sunni fighters execute Iraqi troops
Al Jazeera America
(May 11, 2014) — In an attempt to drive out anti-government fighters, the Iraqi army has reportedly been dropping barrel bombs on the city of Fallujah, killing civilians, hospital sources and witnesses told Al Jazeera.
The use of barrel bombs in civilian areas is banned under international conventions, given their indiscriminate nature.
Mohammed al-Jumaili, a local journalist, told Al Jazeera that the army has repeatedly dropped barrel bombs “targeting mosques, houses and markets” in Fallujah.
Barrel bombs are simple but destructive — they’re oil barrels stuffed with explosives that get dropped from helicopters.
Local hospital sources said the situation was getting worse for many people who had been trapped in the city since the army cut off a key bridge.
Fallujah, just west of Baghdad, is where American soldiers and Iraqis engaged in some of the fiercest fighting of the Iraq war.
With Shia Iraqis in power in Baghdad, the country’s Sunni minority says it feels left out of the country’s decision-making process.
To make matters worse, the civil war in Syria has led to a glut of battle-scarred young men, who slip across the porous border between Iraq and Syria. The Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been responsible for attacks across western Iraq and eastern Syria.
The Iraqi government has denied the use of barrel bombs and asserted that it was fighting in a “humane way.”
Al Jazeera, however, has obtained photographs showing strong evidence of barrel bomb use.
The Syrian government has made extensive use of barrel bombs, using them to terrify civilians in rebel-held areas, dropping them on hospitals and apartment buildings.
Meanwhile, armed fighters in northern Iraq ambushed an army convoy on Saturday and abducted at least 20 soldiers before killing them by shooting them in the head, army officials said Sunday.
It’s the deadliest yet attack on soldiers in a growing series of execution-style attacks in the country, and Iraqi officials say members of ISIL are behind this latest brazen massacre.
“All the soldiers’ bodies bore bullet wounds to the head … they were all executed and this is the hallmark of ISIL groups,” said an army officer in Mosul. Two other officers also blamed ISIL.
Saturday’s deadly ambush took place near Ain al-Jahash in the northern province of Nineveh, one of the most unstable regions in Iraq and through which a long section of pipeline runs on its course from the Kirkuk oilfields to neighboring Turkey.
Security officials told Reuters that fighters disguised as soldiers and driving army vehicles, possibly seized in previous attacks, had ambushed the convoy and abducted the conscripts, killing them en masse hours later.
“The soldiers were taken by surprise and realized too late that the humvees were driven by terrorists rather than their colleagues,” said one army officer from the same brigade as the slain conscripts.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the killings, but armed groups, including ISIL, have a firm presence in Nineveh, which borders Syria.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan contributed reporting from Baghdad, with Reuters
Syrian Civilians in Crosshairs of
Assad’s Barrel Bombs, Says Report
Wilson Dizard / Al Jazeera America
(April 29, 2014) — Attacks on civilians in Syria haven’t abated despite a United Nations resolution two months ago that called on government forces and rebels to curb bombing and shelling of residential areas, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) released Tuesday.
Since a Feb. 22 resolution by the U.N. Security Council called for the end of barrel bomb attacks on civilians, HRW says it has documented 85 attacks by the Syrian government on residential areas, “including two government barrel bomb attacks on clearly marked official hospitals.”
While there have been sieges and massacres across Syria, this report focuses on Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city and the center of the rebellion.
The death toll of the three-year old civil war is now estimated to top 150,000, with millions of refugees having fled the country.
Lately, the tide of the conflict seems to have turned further in the favor of the government, with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces having largely cornered rebel positions and with opposition factions, some allied with Al-Qaeda, beset by infighting.
In its report, HRW urges harsher international punishments against both sides of the conflict to stop “ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Despite the ever growing body count, the weapons used by both sides remain simple in their brutality. Barrel bombs — gas canisters, oil drums or water tanks stuffed with shrapnel and explosives — used by the Syrian government terrify civilians living in rebel-held territory. Often dropped from helicopters, the bombs have fallen on apartment complexes and even hospitals in densely populated areas.
Rebels, for their part, fire improvised rockets, called hell’s cannons, at civilian areas held by Syrian government forces. In early April, according to Syrian state media reports, they killed at least 40 civilians and injured 149. But with the upper hand on the battlefield and access to air power, the government attacks have proved far more deadly.
HRW compiled its report by poring through witness accounts, news reports, activist documentation, amateur video on the ground and satellite imagery showing the before and after of the indiscriminate devastation.
Citing anti-regime activist group the Violations Documentations Center, the report says aerial attacks killed 651 civilians in Aleppo from Feb. 22 through April 22.
According to a Syrian Network for Human Rights report cited by HRW, from Feb. 22 to April 16, at least 920 civilians died in barrel bombings in Syria, mostly in Aleppo.
“Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that bombings had continued since the passage of the Security Council resolution and in some cases increased in residential areas across eastern parts of the city of Aleppo and in the countryside,” according to HRW.
One witness, whose name was changed to protect his identity, told HRW of a barrel bombing on a small bus carrying men, women and children through Aleppo. He said he witnessed several people killed, a 10-year-old girl injured and a man in his 20s with his leg blown off by shrapnel.
“Given Syria’s continuing air war against civilian areas, the Security Council should impose an arms embargo on Syria’s government, as well as on any groups implicated in widespread or systematic human rights abuses,” the report states, urging the U.N. Security Council to put in place a ban on travel and freeze assets for people “credibly implicated in grave abuses.”
The group also recommends that the U.N. “refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.”
“Companies and individuals that provide arms, ammunition or matÃ©rial to Syria or to nonstate armed groups that have been implicated in crimes against humanity or war crimes risk complicity in these crimes,” the report reads.
Russia and Iran have sold weapons to and supported Assad’s regime during the conflict, while Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have sent money and weapons to opposition groups. The United States has also funneled weapons to the rebels through the CIA, according to The Washington Post. The weapons arrive alongside nonlethal aid, like food and medicine, from the West.
Russia, a longtime ally of Assad’s, holds veto power on the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member and has shot down three resolutions on Syria over the past three years, so it would almost certainly veto any resolution to impose an arms embargo or recommend the situation to the International Criminal Court.
Nadim Houry, the Middle East and North Africa deputy director for HRW, called for international action to stem the violence.
“President Assad is talking about elections, but for Aleppo’s residents, the only campaign they are witnessing is a military one of barrel bombs and indiscriminate shelling,” he said.
Assad announced his intention Monday to run for another term in June’s presidential election, a contest he’s all but guaranteed to win.
“Unfortunately, without any concerted effort by the Security Council, the indiscriminate attacks are likely to continue,” Houry told Al Jazeera in an email, adding that he believes the reason for the Assad regime’s continued use of barrel bombs is that it doesn’t fear strong international action.
“I suspect [the bombings have continued] because the government knew that Russia would shield it from any further action at the Security Council and that it would face no sanctions for breaching the resolution,” he said.
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