After the strike : Exposing the civilian harm effects of the 2015 Dutch airstrike on Hawija

Executive summary

On the night of 2-3 June 2015, two Dutch F-16s targeted a factory for vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) in use by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the city of Hawija, Iraq. The strike was carried out as part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) and the larger US-led Coalition against ISIS. The airstrike caused a large secondary explosion which resulted in the destruction of a major share of the industrial neighbourhood of Hawija and led to severe civilian harm.


The airstrike on Hawija was not an isolated event. From October 2014 until December 2018, the Netherlands flew over 2,100 F-16 missions across Iraq and Syria. Overall, the Coalition against ISIS has been responsible for over 34,000 airstrikes, dropping over 100,000 bombs that have severely affected the lives of civilians across Syria and Iraq. Compared to earlier campaigns, Western states involved in OIR rely heavily on remote warfare and verticality, made possible through airstrikes and local partnerships.


For the case of Hawija, neither the Coalition against ISIS, nor the Dutch government – which only admitted responsibility for the strike in 2019, 4.5 years after the event – has taken any steps to investigate and assess the impact of the airstrike in greater detail, or to speak with civilians themselves – victims and witnesses – to hear their accounts of the strike and its resulting civilian harm. When it came to civilian harm, the idea of ‘unknowability’ prevailed in the political debates about Hawija: it was considered impossible to trace civilian harm effects after so many years.


This opaqueness is a general pattern in remote military operations. This report addresses this gap. It is the product of a joint research by Al-Ghad League for Woman and Child Care, PAX and the Intimacies of Remote Warfare (IRW) project at Utrecht University. It informs on the human impact of the airstrike, primarily through interviews with 119 victims, supplemented with visual material, interviews with 40 key informants, 4 focus group discussions, field trips and secondary literature.


So far, reports and accounts of civilian harm have often applied a limited scope, focusing mostly on immediate impacts such as deaths, physical injuries, and property damage. As such, the reverberating civilian harm effects of military operations remain understudied: long-term and indirect effects are often forgotten or neglected.


Therefore, this report makes a distinction between direct civilian harm effects like deaths, injuries, material damages and psychological trauma, and reverberating civilian harm effects, such as displacement, economic harm, and the impact of the strike on access to medical care and education. In addition, we show what the airstrike on Hawija means to the affected civilians: how this event figures in their collective interpretations of civilian harm and how these translate into particular claims and demands.

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Saba Azeem, Lauren Gould, Erin Bijl & Jolle Demmers | 2022
122 pagina's | Al-Ghad League for Woman and Child Care, Intimacies of Remote Warfare, PAX and the Protection of Civilians programme and Utrecht University
ISBN: 9789492487599
Civil Warfare, Commemoration, Compensation, Effects, Government Policy Making, Hawija Bombing (Iraq 2015), Injuries, Iraq War, Iraqis, Netherlands, Psychosocial impact, Research, Terrorism, War