The Hague & Baghdad, Wednesday 15 March 2023 – On March 20, 2003, a multinational coalition led by the United States invaded Iraq. What resulted over the next 20 years were hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties and the destruction of key infrastructure throughout the country. Today, Iraq remains in an unstable and fragile state. Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) was born out of the need to protect civilians harmed in US military operations in Iraq. Twenty years later, CIVIC continues its work advocating for the protection needs of civilians in Iraq and across the globe.
Federico Borello, CIVIC’s Executive Director, said:
“The war in Iraq marked a turning point in modern history for many reasons: one of the most glaring is the devastating civilian death toll. While it’s impossible to know the exact numbers of civilian deaths and injuries, we know that Iraqi civilians were repeatedly targeted and killed by aerial bombings, shellings, gunshots, suicide attacks, and fires started by explosions.
“The plight of Iraqi civilians has been a resounding reminder of the reality that there has long been a failure to respect the lives and dignity of civilians by parties to the conflict. This is true up until today in Iraq and other conflict settings such as Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia.
“The war in Iraq was also the beginning of CIVIC’s history. Our founder, Marla Ruzicka, spent her final two years in Iraq trying to help Iraqi civilians harmed by the US military before her life was tragically cut short.
“We’ve come a long way in our quest to change the way the United States prevents, investigates, and responds to civilian casualties. The launch of the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMRAP) by the U.S. Department of Defense in August 2022 was a major accomplishment. However, we still have a long way to go before the US properly investigates civilian harm, provides amends to victims and their families, and takes appropriate actions in its military planning and operations to prevent and reduce civilian harm.”
Ali al-Assaf, CIVIC’s Regional Director for MENA Programs and former Country Director in Iraq, said:
“The war in Iraq inflicted on each Iraqi a deep wound that will likely never heal. Iraqi civilians have paid the highest price. For most of us, our lives will never be the same.
“I was in my late 30s when the first air sirens blared in Baghdad and US anti-aircraft tracers streaked through the sky. From that instant, the sound of explosions punctuated our days and nights. The bombs started to fall.
“Countless women, children, and elderly men living in my neighborhood were killed by the US army as they tried to flee Baghdad. Some of them, I had to bury in a median strip. Those whom the U.S. and its allied forces claimed to come to protect became their first victims.
“War-weary Iraqis were misled into believing that democracy would prevail following the US-led invasion. Instead, Iraqis, assaulted and traumatized by years of war, have seen their country torn apart by continued violence.
“Today, the country remains politically fraught and insecure. Until now, Iraqis have not fully recovered from years of a large-scale war followed by armed insurgencies, a sectarian civil war, and terrorism.
“Women, who used to play a leading role in the country prior to the war, have been heavily impacted by the invasion of Iraq. This resulted in a cultural shift towards conservatism and lawlessness.
“Over the last 20 years, Iraq has remained a breeding ground for gross violations and abuses of human rights, as well as serious breaches of international humanitarian law. With armed actors still proliferating and battling in some regions, this is an even greater source of concern and anguish for Iraqis.”
- “On that specific day when the airstrikes started, we heard too many sounds that we cannot forget. We are trying to forget, but we still cannot forget... Now that 20 years have passed, I had hoped that Iraq would be better than before: that the infrastructure, education, hospitals, and streets would have improved—and that our lives would be better. Unfortunately, nothing got better. It’s worse than before.” – Batol, a female resident from Baghdad interviewed by CIVIC.
- “We were hoping that 2003 would be the turning point in the modern history of Iraq, but unfortunately what came after was more complicated. What happened in Iraq after 2003 has caused frustration for the Iraqi people. Twenty years have passed, and we are still talking about a political process that has not yet been completed.” – Ahmed, a resident from Baghdad interviewed by CIVIC.
CIVIC in Iraq:
After Marla was killed in Baghdad in 2005, CIVIC withdrew from Iraq. The organization returned in 2014 as anti-ISIS operations commenced. CIVIC engaged with the US-led anti-ISIS coalition to ensure best practices on civilian harm mitigation were incorporated into operations. In recent years, CIVIC has trained various security and military forces in Iraq including the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to better protect civilians. The organization has also worked jointly with civilian communities to improve their protection through expansive initiatives such as its locally led Community Based Protection (CBP) initiative that works with “Community Protection Groups” (CPGs).
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