The devastating toll from coalition bombing

UNRWA photo Yarmouk Camp DamascusOn 29 December 2015, the Iraqi military “liberated” the city of Ramadi, in Iraq, from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS, or ISIL) in an “epic” victory after a long offensive to retake the provincial capital from the terrorist group.

In a televised press conference, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised the capture of the city, saying that “2016 will be the year of the big and final victory, when Daesh’s [IS's] presence in Iraq will be terminated.”

The battle of Ramadi fits into the broader campaign aimed at defeating the Islamic State. Canada joined the international anti-ISIL coalition—led by the United States—in early 2014, and has been conducting targeted airstrikes alongside other allies and partners since October 2014. These strikes continue despite a Liberal campaign promise to end Canada’s participation in the air campaign.  Foreign Minister Dion recently explained that the government wished to have “no gap” between the end of Canada’s role in the bombing and the start of its new plan of military and possibly police training and other efforts, soon to be unveiled to the Canadian public.

In a speech delivered on January 13, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said military efforts in Iraq and Syria are bearing fruit. But what does “victory” really look like? BBC journalist Thomas Fessy describes the scene not long after the recapture of Ramadi:

Driving through Ramadi is a ride through the remains of a city ravaged by war. This [is] a place that has suffered over a decade of sporadic conflict, but the week-long battle against so-called Islamic State has destroyed the urban landscape… this is a city that has been sacrificed in battle.

In his speech, the U.S. Secretary of Defense affirms that the coalition against the Islamic State is clearing the battlefield with “precision strikes.” Since the battle for Ramadi began in July 2015, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted over 600 of those “precision airstrikes” in and around the city.  As a result, 80% of the city has been destroyed. Once home to 400,000 people, Ramadi is now a ghost city. Only a few inhabitants returned after the battle—because there is simply nothing to return to. Homes were burnt down, schools destroyed, and although most of the 1,000 ISIS fighters that were present in Ramadi were killed in the airstrikes, roughly 30 percent of the city remained under ISIS control, according to U.S. military officials. Many civilians have died in the airstrikes too, they said, but they could not confirm the exact numbers.

And the future is not very promising. According to estimates, rebuilding the city of Ramadi would cost $12 billion. This is a huge amount considering that the United States and its allies have only pledged $50 million to a United Nations fund for reconstruction in Iraq. “This is money no one has,” deplores Tom Engelhardt, author and Fellow at The Nation Institute. And “that’s only a single destroyed community.” The earlier victories at Kobane and Sinjar in Syria, also supported by U.S. airstrikes, destroyed those cities in a similar fashion.

Despite the horrific human and material costs, the United States’ strategy going forward is to conduct military operations similar to the one that led to the Ramadi “victory”. “When we see something that works, we look for ways to do more of it,” said U.S. Secretary of Defense Carter in his speech. The United States aims specifically at defeating ISIS in Raqqah and Mosul, two power bases of IS in Syria and Iraq. Fallujah is the other major IS-controlled city in Anbar province that is targeted.

Retaking Mosul, however, will pose a huge challenge to the coalition. It will likely require twice the forces that were involved in retaking Ramadi. The city, which had a population of around 2 million people before ISIS took control of it, still has a large number of civilians who could be killed in the airstrikes. U.S.’ “precision airstrikes” will thus be much more difficult to conduct in Mosul than in Ramadi, and a possible “victory” raises serious concerns about the toll of human casualties this will likely generate.

The result of such a strategy is entirely predictable, says Engelhardt. Iraq will have far fewer habitable cities and a far larger number of displaced persons without any meaningful means of existence.

Can any of us begin to imagine what will emerge from such ruins?


Image credit: UNRWA
(We do not have a picture of Ramadi to post. This is Damascus, where the bombing by Assad produces similar results and has been widely condemned.)

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9 Responses to “The devastating toll from coalition bombing”

  1. Jo VellacottFebruary 5, 2016 at 3:27 pm #

    Bombing creates lasting pain and misery. It also creates more refugees and more terrorists, and cannot lead us a step closer to any rational conflict resolution.

  2. Another PersonFebruary 5, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    How do we fight ISIS anyways? Iraq asked for the air strikes, yet even defence blogs suggest that if we want real results, other action must be taken.

  3. FrankFebruary 4, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

    Utter stupidity
    The “answer” to Daesh, ISIS, religious extremism, etc., is creation of a public which wants more than doctrinaire answers to all questions. We should devote all our resources to support for the people in refugee camps, with special emphasis on providing the best possible educations for the children and young people.

    The results may not come fast. But will be far better than leaving shattered populations digging themselves out of rubble.

  4. anne cameronFebruary 4, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

    Canada recently committed to taking a certain number of refugees, mostly Syrian… what about the others, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Africa…? We’re racing around like frenzied ferrets trying to find housing, space in classrooms, health care, employment for these refugees and…continuing to drop bombs, which will make more refugees…

    Can nobody see how ridiculous this is? It’s like sitting on a raft in the middle of the bay, lifting sea water from one side with a teaspoon and dumping it off the other side in the hope that one day you’ll empty the ocean.

    Politicians and bureaucrats get paid significant sums and they can’t see there’s a huge disconnect. Stop bombing. Every family which loses a loved one to our bombs becomes a family which begins to consider joining ISIL, if for no other reason than to try to get us to hell and gone out of their country!

    What we’re wasting on bombs, bullets, and death could better be used to parachute food and medical supplies, tons of food, tonnes of medical supplies. Save some lives instead of adding to the slaughter.

    Sheesh, it’s not rocket science, guys!

  5. Anne StreeterFebruary 4, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

    This is devastating! Canada must withdraw now!

  6. dimitriFebruary 4, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

    Since last September, the coordinated efforts of the Syrian government forces and the Russian military have been fighting the IS/Daesh/Al Quaida/Al ar Sham insurgencies (which are really a collection of nasty and mostly paid-for thugs who’ve been hired to create havoc for the eventual Sunni {Western} overthrow of Iraq and Syria that is covertly financed by the Gulf States, the US, NATO and encouraged by Israel). These surgical operations have been avoiding possible civilian casualties as much as possible. The situation isn’t ideal, but in that space of time, they have done more damage to those mercenary groups than what the “coalition” forces have done since 2011 (with something like 10,000 sorties)! Ashamedly, Canada has been part of this carnage that has caused millions of refugees to run for their lives and create a logistical mess in Europe that is reeling with emotion in the prospect of having to shoulder this mass exodus.

    As a Greek, I am incensed that Greece is now being scolded for “facilitating” this transfer of people into Europe (even though it is going through unbelievably harsh austerity measures taken by the EU and the Big Banks), and threatened to be taken out of the Schengen agreement. Meanwhile, Turkey has been given a 3 billion dollar aid to deal with the refugee problem even though they are one of the perpetrators of this bloody mess!

    It gets even crazier. Now the American approach is to bomb the crap out of cities like Ramadi to “eradicate” the ISIS forces, causing more untold suffering and death of civilians!

    All the while, our wonderful media will continue to whitewash these horrific crimes of humanity by giving only a limited and distracting coverage, and serving the corporations who finance this charade. Don’t worry, be happy. Buy our toilet paper!

    It’s not all doom and gloom. Be aware, and collectively, we can do something to resist this darkness with a ray of light. We must voice our opinions to the government whenever possible. Every little bit counts!

  7. Dr. David Lorge ParnasFebruary 4, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    The reasoning is simple: (A) We have to do something. (B) What can we do? (answer) Bomb. (C) We’ll bomb some more.

    Someone has to tell them what else they can do.

  8. JocelynFebruary 4, 2016 at 6:31 pm #

    There is nothing good that comes from such dreadful and thorough destruction; all in the name of Freedom??? When will mankind understand the killing, terror and warfare does NOT solve problems. It only destroys lives, cities and entire countries. The REAL story can be found in the profits amassed by the Business of War, Arms, Planes, Tanks and BOMBS!!


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