InterAction and Center for Civilians in Conflict Release Report on Mosul Military Operation

Photo By: Sahr Muhamedally, CIVIC

Report Examines Protection of Civilians Challenges and Lessons for Contingency Planning 

InterAction and the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) released a joint report, “Protection of civilians in Mosul coalition operations and lessons for contingency planning,” which reflects on the measures taken to address protection concerns during the Mosul military operations and subsequent displacement. The urban military operation to re-take the city of Mosul from the Islamic State left hundreds of thousands of people displaced, destroyed much of the infrastructure in the western part of the city, and littered the area with unexploded bombs and other explosive weapons, leading some experts to predict that it will take more than 25 years to clear west Mosul of explosives. One humanitarian aid worker described the damage to infrastructure in Mosul as comparable to the blitz of World War II.

Based on the findings of a June 2017 roundtable discussion jointly facilitated by CIVIC and InterAction staff, the report describes the challenges faced by military planners and humanitarian actors in preparing for the Mosul military operation, as well as the concerns about civilian harm during hostilities. Civilians faced many protection risks during the Mosul military operations. The combination of intense urban fighting and the lack of safe exit routes from the city made for dangerous journeys for those who chose to flee. For those who stayed, the tempo of fighting, Islamic State targeting of civilians who tried to flee, and mortars, rockets, and large bombs used by all parties in densely populated neighborhoods contributed to injuries, death, trauma, and destruction of vital infrastructure. The reality of urban fighting also made the military operation more delicate and challenging, as civilians were often trapped among Islamic State fighters hiding in residential buildings. Humanitarian responders also faced challenges accessing people in need, since many civilians remained in the city during the fighting.

Roundtable participants included Iraqi embassy officials, U.S. policymakers and military officials, and humanitarian actors with experience in Iraq. Discussions explored the conduct of hostilities, planning for displacement, coordination between military, government, and humanitarian actors, and the implications of harm to civilians for stabilization and recovery. CIVIC and InterAction staff subsequently analyzed the discussion to highlight key lessons and offer reflections on contingency planning in complex urban operations and further measures needed to reduce civilian harm.

Following three years of control by the Islamic State, military operations to reinstate Iraqi control over Mosul commenced on October 16, 2016, at which point Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), with air support from U.S.-led Coalition forces, and Kurdish Peshmerga forces began offensive operations. East Mosul was retaken on January 18, 2017, and operations to retake western Mosul began on February 19, 2017. On July 10, 2017, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State in Mosul. From October 2016 to the end of June 2017, nearly 900,000 civilians fled Mosul, 705,000 from western Mosul alone, and estimates of civilian casualties resulting from the military operations vary widely.

Beyond the current fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, lessons from the Mosul operation will be relevant for humanitarian and military actors operating in places like Afghanistan, Gaza, Nigeria, Yemen, and other locations. Adapting lessons from Mosul to new operations will be essential for preparedness to address protection needs, properly handle displacement, and reduce civilian harm in urban areas.

Read the full report.