Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared victory in the city of Mosul on Sunday after a monthslong battle to regain control of the city from self-described Islamic State militants.
Yet the siege resulted in a “civilian catastrophe” that included mass torture and death ― and both sides have blood on their hands, survivors recounted to Amnesty International in a report published on Monday.
“The scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives during the military operation to retake Mosul must immediately be publicly acknowledged at the highest levels of government in Iraq and states that are part of the U.S.-led coalition,” said Lynn Maalouf, director of research for the Middle East at Amnesty International.
“Entire families have been wiped out, many of whom are still buried under the rubble today. The people of Mosul deserve to know, from their government, that there will be justice and reparation so that the harrowing impact of this operation is duly addressed.”
“We did not have any options. If you stayed, you would die in your house from the fighting. If you tried to run away, they would catch you and kill you, and hang your body from the electricity pylon as a warning.”
The actions that took place during ISIS’s takeover of Mosul amounted to war crimes, Amnesty argues.
Forced displacement became commonplace. ISIS fighters moved thousands of people from neighboring villages into conflict zones in western Mosul, according to the report. They then used these civilians as human shields, many people recounted.
“[ISIS] said you must leave, or you will be killed,” said Abu Haidar, originally from the village of Tel Arbeed. “We were brought as human shields. They brought us to stand between them and the missiles.”
The militant group also prevented people from escaping. Members of ISIS shut people into their homes by welding their doors shut, rigging booby traps at exits or summarily killing hundreds of people attempting to flee, the report said.
“We did not have any options. If you stayed, you would die in your house from the fighting. If you tried to run away, they would catch you and kill you, and hang your body from the electricity pylon as a warning,” one Mosul resident, identified only as Hasan, told Amnesty International.
But ISIS fighters weren’t the only perpetrators of crimes against civilians. Members of the U.S.-led coalition working to fight ISIS would launch airstrikes on ISIS-controlled areas of Mosul that were full of noncombatants, thanks to ISIS’s campaign to displace people from their villages, Amnesty International said. Civilians would often find themselves in the crosshairs of explosions.
A U.S. airstrike in March, intended to kill two ISIS snipers, ended up killing 105 civilians, even though civilians are supposed to be protected under international law.
Between January and mid-May 2017, Amnesty International researchers documented 45 attacks that killed 426 civilians and injured more than 100. The actual death toll is likely much higher than that.
Airwars, an independent monitoring group, estimates that at least 7,200 civilians died in airstrikes since the beginning of the campaign to retake the city last October.
“Military planners should have taken extra care in the manner in which they used their weapons to ensure that these attacks were not unlawful,” Maalouf said.
See more photos from the battle for Mosul below.