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Worrying evidence is emerging that fighting against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in west Mosul is dirtier and deadlier to civilians than the fight to retake the city’s eastern part.

A citizen journalist posted photos and video of Iraq’s emergency response division, a special police unit, firing inaccurate rockets into west Mosul on February 17. These weapons are commonly known as improvised rocket-assisted munitions (IRAM), and they are inherently indiscriminate.

Screenshot of Twitter post by Iraqi citizen journalist showing photographs of Iraq’s emergency response division firing inaccurate rockets into west Mosul on February 17, 2017. © 2017 Twitter

Witnesses suggests these weapons are being used repeatedly. Federal Police were stationed next to at least three IRAM launchers aimed toward Mosul from the nearby village of Albu Saif on March 7, an international observer told me. The BBC ran footage of the emergency response division firing the weapon from a densely populated neighbourhood Mosul’s Old City on March 11. An international observer told me that on March 14, Federal Police drove two vehicles mounted with IRAM into Tayaran, a neighborhood south of the Old City.

It is not yet clear whether these munitions have killed civilians. But their indiscriminate nature makes their use in populated civilian areas a serious violation of the laws of war, and may even amount to a war crime.

Iraq’s government isn’t trying to hide these weapons; a federal police spokesperson confirmed their use in Mosul.

Previously, the Iraqi government commmitted to not use heavy artillery inside Mosul. According to Iraqi commanders from other forces on the frontline, this commitment was set aside by the Ministry of Interior forces, the emergency response division and Federal Police. A general from Iraq’s counterterrorism forces told the Washington Post that these troops’ “method was shelling each neighborhood with artillery and rockets consistently and then attacking with Humvees. They are acting with recklessness and madness.”

Another officer, speaking anonymously to an international observer, said, unprompted, that the Federal Police’s use of artillery was "excessive.”

Frontline healthcare workers told me that they are deeply concerned about the safety of civilians. Since the operation to retake west Mosul launched on February 18, over 857 people have been treated at makeshift trauma centers, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

While ISIS continues to perpetrate horrific abuses, including war crimes, in east Mosul, Iraqi and coalition forces showed that they could push ISIS back without relying on the use of unlawful weapons. For the protection of civilians still in the clutches of ISIS, armed forces should refrain from their use in the west.

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