Iraq has become the second Middle East state to employ barrel bombs, a human rights group said.
Human Rights Watch has determined that Iraq was deploying barrel bombs in its effort to quell the Sunni revolt in the Anbar province.
The New York-based organization said Iraq’s U.S.-equipped military has been using barrel bombs along with mortars and other munitions in attacks on civilian facilities, including the hospital in armed groups-held Falluja.
“Since early May, al-Maliki's government forces have also dropped barrel bombs on residential neighborhoods of Falluja and surrounding areas, part of an intensified campaign against armed opposition groups” HRW said. “These indiscriminate attacks have caused civilian casualties and forced thousands of residents to flee.”
This marked the first report of the spread of barrel bombs beyond Syria.
Over the last year, Syrian Air Force helicopters have been dropping barrel bombs — containers filled with explosives and shrapnel — on armed opposition strongholds.
HRW did not say where the barrel bombs came from. Iraq has become an ally of neighboring Iran, deemed the leading supporter of the war by Syrian President Bashar Assad against the opposition, which began in 2011.
In a report on May 27, HRW quoted an Anbar security official as saying that the Maliki Army has been dropping barrel bombs from helicopters on Falluja since May 2. Three Falluja residents also testified to barrel bomb attacks from Iraqi helicopters.
Al-Maliki's government has denied the use of barrel bombs.
“They started using them [barrel bombs] because they want to cause as much destruction as possible,” the unidentified security official said. “Maliki's government decided to destroy the city instead of trying to invade it.”
HRW said the United States has been a leading supporter of al-Maliki’s government effort to quell the Sunni revolt. Washington has provided the Maliki Army with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. The U.S. military has also sent advisers to enhance Baghdad’s offensive.
“The United States in particular, which has sent military aid including Hellfire missiles, ammunition and surveillance drones to al-Maliki's government since the Anbar conflict began, should warn Iraq that it risks losing military assistance if its unlawful attacks do not cease,” HRW said.
'Medical supplies running short'
Barrel bombs – empty oil drums packed with explosives – have reached notoriety after their alleged use by the Syrian government in the country's ongoing civil war.
HRW also said the Maliki government has shelled the main hospital to the point that such strikes "strongly suggest that al-Maliki's forces have targeted it, which would constitute a serious violation of the laws of war."
The rights watchdog cited witnesses and corroborating photographs and alleged that the "accounts of repeated strikes ... strongly indicate the hospital has been targeted."
Evers said the Maliki government assault on Fallujah had "been really bad since January" but added there was a "noticeable increase in the amount of shelling on the hospital in February and March".
Al-Maliki's forces claim to have killed several hundred militants in what they insist are targeted strikes in and around Fallujah, and for months, authorities have trumpeted wide-ranging operations that they insist are making inroads.
But al-Maliki's forces have struggled all year to regain territory in Anbar from militants.
The ongoing "al-Maliki's war against Iraqi people" in the province has displaced hundreds of thousands from Ramadi and Fallujah, and the Red Cross said on Monday "supplies of water, food and other basic necessities are severely limited."
"Access to health care in Fallujah has been dramatically interrupted," said Patrick Youssef, head of the organisation's Iraq delegation, adding that "medical supplies are running short."
Source: HRW & Agencies.