Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led military coalition backing them in the battle for Mosul of violation of international humanitarian law.
Amnesty in a report said that the violation could amount to war crimes.
The rights group said that Islamic State (IS) militant group, deliberately violated that same law by intentionally putting civilians in harm’s way to shield their fighters and impede the advance of Iraqi and coalition forces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had declared victory in Mosul on Monday, three years after the IS seized the city and made it the stronghold of a “caliphate” they said would take over the world.
A 100,000 strong alliance of Iraqi government units, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Shi’ite militias had launched the offensive in October, with key air and ground support from the international coalition.
The UN said that much of Mosul has been destroyed in grinding street-to-street fighting adding that thousands of civilians were killed and nearly a million people fled their homes.
Amnesty also accused Iraqi forces and the coalition carried out a series of unlawful attacks in west Mosul since January, relying heavily on Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions, explosive weapons with crude targeting capabilities that wreaked havoc in densely populated areas.
“Even in attacks that seem to have struck their intended military target, the use of unsuitable weapons or failure to take other necessary precautions resulted in needless loss of civilian lives and in some cases appears to have constituted disproportionate attacks,” Amnesty said in the report.
Neither the Iraqi defence ministry nor coalition officials were immediately available to comment on the Amnesty report.
Amnesty also slammed IS for a host of crimes that have been documented previously.
It said that the militants rounded up residents in contested villages and neighborhoods and forced them to move into conflict zones in west Mosul for use as human shields.
“As clashes neared, they trapped the civilians inside houses without access to food or medical care,’’ Amnesty said.
The militants also fought and hid among the population.
Amnesty accused Islamic State of summarily killed hundreds, if not thousands, of men, women and children who attempted to flee and hanged their bodies in public areas.
Amnesty acknowledged the challenges of protecting civilians given the militants’ tactics, but still blamed Iraqi authorities and the coalition for failing to take feasible precautions to protect civilians from air strikes.
It said leaflet drops warning of attacks had been virtually useless because Islamic State heavily restricted civilian movement.
Neither the government nor the coalition keeps track of civilian deaths.
Amnesty said the toll just in west Mosul from attacks launched by pro-government forces was very likely higher than the 3,706 estimated by monitoring group Airwars.
“The true death toll of the west Mosul battle may never be known,” Amnesty said.