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Dutch Cabinet recognizes 70 civilian deaths in Iraq air raid, House of Representatives were misinformed

The government acknowledges that the Netherlands is responsible for the air strike in 2015 at a bomb factory in Iraq, and that seventy people died in the process. The Ministry of Defense was aware of civilian casualties, but initially concealed this from the House, according to a letter from Minister Bijleveld to the House of Representatives.

The Netherlands was also involved in an attack on a house in the Iraqi city of Mosul, in which four people died, the minister writes. It is the first time that the Netherlands has opened up cases of air strikes carried out by the Netherlands in the fight against the Islamic terrorist organization IS.

Research by the NOS and NRC showed two weeks ago that in 2015 a neighborhood was completely destroyed in a Dutch attack on an IS bomb plant in Hawija. It was one of the bloodiest attacks by the international coalition in the fight against IS. At least 70 people were killed, including children according to eyewitnesses.

The information on which the attack was based was incomplete, the minister writes. It was assumed that there were no people in the area around the bomb factory. But they were especially surprised by the large amount of ammunition in the factory, which caused a huge second explosion.

The minister says that he “deeply regrets the death of civilian casualties”. “This is extra bitter when our actions were aimed at preventing as much collateral damage as possible, and especially civilian casualties,” she writes. “However, this was a war situation where these risks can never be completely excluded.”

In her response, Bijleveld also addresses misinformation of the Chamber:

After the attack on Hawija on 3 June, the Ministry of Defense knew fairly quickly that something had gone wrong because the Dutch F-16 pilot immediately carried out a Battle Damage Assessment . This revealed that there was “unintended collateral damage,” the minister writes. The Americans also investigated the case and informed the Ministry of Defense on 15 June that seventy people were killed in the bombing.

According to the ministry, the Americans hereby reported to the Netherlands that both civilian casualties and IS fighters were killed, but that it was not possible afterwards to determine who was an IS fighter and who was a civilian. Earlier the American Pentagon reported to NOS and NRC that it concerns 70 citizens.

The House of Representatives was told on 22 June, a week after the Americans had informed The Hague, something else. In response to written questions, then Minister Hennis wrote that no civilians would have died as a result of Dutch actions. “That is wrong in itself, that is wrong,” Bijleveld says in an explanation. At that time it was already known at the ministry that the Americans did in fact assume civilian deaths.

Hennis, now UN envoy for Iraq, does not want to respond. She says that this is up to the current minister.

The government is now also opening a second attack. A presumably IS headquarters in Mosul turned out to be a house afterwards, killing four members of a family on September 21, 2015. The incident received a great deal of international attention after the New York Times had reported in detail .

It is the first time that the Netherlands has passed on data and locations of air attacks carried out by the Netherlands. According to Minister Bijleveld, this is now possible because the Netherlands is no longer participating in the air mission and the reporting of this data therefore “no longer entails direct risks for operational and personnel safety.”

Surviving relatives cannot claim compensation from the Netherlands, says the minister. The Public Prosecution Service has investigated both cases and concluded that nothing unlawful has happened. Moreover, according to Bijleveld, Iraq is responsible for handling individual claims.

Nevertheless, the government is investigating the possibility of making a fund available for “the communities in question”. Bijleveld emphasizes that this is not a recognition of guilt, but a sign of goodwill towards the affected areas.

Could the Dutch Air Force cancel the attack?

Dutch F-16s were deployed in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2016 and in 2018 as part of a large international coalition. In addition, over 2100 air strikes were carried out from Jordan. The purpose of the mission was to fight IS.

The ministry is now disclosing the exact details of two attacks because, according to the ministry, they are the only two bombings in which the Netherlands itself has established that “certainly or very likely civilian casualties” were killed.

Where bombing would take place was determined at the international headquarters of the operation in Kuwait. At a second headquarters in Qatar, all available information was re-examined and finally given the green light for an attack. A Dutch soldier, the Red Card Holder, assisted by a defense lawyer, checked the available information and should have said no.

“If the Netherlands were assigned a target, the Red Card Holder would therefore have ensured in advance that the risk of collateral damage was as small as possible, as required by humanitarian war law,” writes the minister.

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