What is it Good For? High civilian casualties during the Battle of Mosul

What is it Good For? High civilian casualties during the Battle of Mosul

On June 4, 2014, the Islamic State group (IS) invaded Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. After 29 months of continuous occupation by IS, Iraqi and coalition forces began taking the city back in October 2016. Nine months of fighting led to the liberation of Mosul on June 29, 2017. Throughout the occupation and liberation, civilians living in the city were at risk of death, injury and kidnapping, but official data on casualties were not available. A new study by Gilbert Burnham and colleagues, published this week in PLOS Medicine, revealed that the civilian mortality rate was higher during the months of liberation than during IS occupation.

The researchers surveyed 1,202 households in Mosul as soon the military allowed them access to the area following its liberation, asking residents to report how many deaths, injuries or kidnappings had happened within the household during IS occupation and during the liberation. According to the survey results, 628 civilians died between June 2014 and June 2017. The researchers discovered that more civilian casualties occurred during the nine months of liberation than during the 29 months of IS occupation, with the majority of deaths attributable to airstrikes (201 deaths) and explosions (172 deaths).

Conducting research in a warzone meant the study was limited by a lack of official pre-occupation population numbers and imperfect recall among the surveyed residents. Additionally, the researchers only surveyed households that had remained in Mosul for the duration, so they could not account for the thousands who fled the city. Despite these limitations, the study appears to be the first systematic undertaking to estimate the human cost of urban warfare in Mosul. The high number of deaths from airstrikes demonstrates the failure of advanced precision-targeting technology to protect civilian lives.



Research Article: Lafta R, Al-Nuaimi MA, Burnham G (2018) Injury and death during the ISIS occupation of Mosul and its liberation: Results from a 40-cluster household survey. PLoS Med 15(5): e1002567. http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002567


Image Credit: Staff Sgt. Jason Hull, U.S. Army


Erin is a Publications Assistant and the press representative for PLOS Medicine. Since joining PLOS in 2017, she has been fortunate to read and report on the new and important studies published by PLOS Medicine each week.

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