THE UK Government is facing calls to launch an immediate investigation into reports of between 72 and 81 civilian deaths linked to British air strikes in Iraq.

Reports identifying eight separate incidents of civilian casualties in the bombing campaign have been raised by the independent monitoring group AirWars, which is calling for the Government to take action and investigate the evidence.

Since the UK voted to join the bloody civil war in Syria, on top of over a year of air strikes in Iraq, AirWars has identified eight incident reports of civilian casualties in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Ramadi. The UK military has already confirmed that British air strikes took place on the same dates and in the same locations as the reported civilian casualties, although they claim there have been “no reports from Iraq or Syria of civilian casualties as a result of the UK air campaign”.

Director of AirWars Chris Woods, an expert in conflict issues and a former BBC journalist, argues there is a need for the Government to investigate these reports to identify the consequences of UK military action.

“Eight reported incidents took place in December in Ramadi and Mosul, in which alleged coalition and possibly British strikes may have killed a total of 72 to 81 civilians,” Woods said.

The eight casualty reports, which are compiled through a forensic methodology of credible media and eyewitness sources, are broken down into more specific categories.

Reuters news agency reported that “at least 12 civilians” were killed in an airstrike in Mosul on the 21st of December 2015. AirWars back this report up with a further seven Arabic news sources and eleven images connected to the strike.

Among the dead was Abdul Khaliq Ghanem Sabawi, who was killed with his wife, daughter and aunt in the strike, according to NRN News.

The UK military confirms that “Typhoon FGR4s and an RAF Reaper operated around the Mosul area” on December 21st, which included dropping a “Paveway IV bomb” and further “targeted support” in an airstrike.

This incident, alongside three others, is judged by AirWars to have the strongest evidence base to link coalition air strikes to civilian casualties – described by military sources as “collateral damage”.

Woods added: “With UK strike aircraft possibly implicated in at least four civilian casualty events in Iraq in December – events which likely led to the deaths of at least 23 civilians – we urge the UK Government to launch a full and prompt investigation into all eight reported incidents, and possible RAF involvement.”

So far the UK Government has refused to engage with the warnings of anti-war campaigns, who pointed to the risk of increased civilian casualties from further bombing.

Woods said: “Errors do occur, intelligence failings do happen and sometimes things do go wrong. It would be unprecedented in the history of aerial warfare for the UK not to have killed civilians in those air strikes.”

When asked whether the UK Government still believes that there have been “no reports of civilian casualties” as a result of its Iraqi air strikes, a spokesperson refused to accept the evidence from AirWars.

Calls for an investigation have gained the support of peace campaigners and the SNP.

Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute, said the Government had questions to answer over the civilian casualty reports: “These reports are deeply worrying if correct. We are all committed to destroying Daesh – it is about how best we do that – and if these reports are confirmed it casts a real shadow over the UK Government’s strategy. The SNP asked David Cameron straightforward and essential questions about the aims and strategy of his bombing campaign when it was proposed and did not get answers.

“The Prime Minister failed to answer our repeated questions on where the 70,000 ground forces that he claimed exist are coming from – he failed to give us any insight into how he planned to stabilise and rebuild the region and he failed to make the case for air strikes. These reports need to be answered by the Ministry of Defence.”

The cities of Mosul and Ramadi have been sites of intense fighting between Daesh militants and Iraqi Government forces backed by Western air strikes. Bombing in Iraq – which now totals over 6,000 air strikes since August 2014 – has faced the military challenge of minimising civilian casualties of the type that radicalised Daesh fighters following the invasion of Iraq.

Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War coalition, has also backed the call for an investigation into the reported civilian casualties and warned that the reports raise further concerns over the new bombing campaign in Syria.

“Stop the War supports any investigations into civilian deaths caused by air strikes. People in Britain should know what the consequences of this military intervention is to understand whether to take part in future military interventions,” she said.

“If you look at the example of Raqqa, Syria, it is still a substantially sized city. Reports say that Daesh are good at hiding themselves. When there are air strikes it is extremely likely that people are killed who aren’t the targets.

“We’ve always had claims of ‘smart bombs’ that can magically avoid hitting children or hospitals. We have to be very sceptical of what the military and politicians say about these bombs. They talk in a clinical language, but in actual fact we don’t know how many civilians are killed because they don’t count them.”

The concerns follow the heated House of Commons debate over the bombing of Syria by UK forces, where a majority voted in favour of military action despite opposition from 97 per cent of MPs from Scotland. Dozens of protests took place across the UK, led by Stop the War, urging MPs to vote against bombing.

Following the vote concerns were raised over how – if at all – the UK military is monitoring those killed in air strikes. Foreign secretary Philip Hammond conceded to parliament that “people will have been killed as a result of air strikes”, yet he was unable to provide further information on those killed.

In response to questions from Ronnie Cowan MP, Conservative minister Penny Mordaunt conceded that the Government does “not maintain total counts” on those killed.

The lack of evidence on the consequences of air strikes is the result of a lack of UK officials or ground troops, the dangers for journalists in these war zones, and the difficulty in distinguishing responsibility for strikes between different coalition partners.

These factors, according to AirWars, make it difficult to gauge the full scale of civilian casualties as a result of bombing. The monitoring group has compiled reports of between 795 and 2,332 total civilian deaths in coalition air strikes.

A spokesperson for the UK military, responding to calls for an investigation into the reports of civilian casualties, said: “There have been no reports from Iraq or Syria of civilian casualties as a result of the UK air campaign – our overriding concern is to protect civilians from the terrorists we are targeting and we take every possible measure to avoid causing harm to innocent people.”

Michael Gray


is a journalist with

Demands for UK probe into ‘civilian deaths’ in Iraq air strikes