Iraqis sue Dutch state over 2015 residential neighborhood bombing

Eleven Iraqis filed a lawsuit against the Dutch state for damages they suffered when Dutch F-16s bombed a car bomb factory in Hawija in 2015. They lost 11 family members, including nine children. Several have lost their homes and some victims are still suffering from chronic pain, their lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld told NOS.

According to the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the bombing of the Islamic State car bomb factory went wrong because there was much more ammunition stored than expected. Ordnance exploded, killing at least 70 civilians and damaging or destroying hundreds of homes in the surrounding residential area.

Ank Bijleveld, defense minister when this bombing with civilian casualties came to light, has repeatedly told parliament that there was no indication in advance that civilian deaths might occur. Based on experience from four previous air raids on bomb-making factories, the ministry felt there was no significant risk of damage to the surrounding residential area, she said. According to Bijleveld, it was impossible to foresee that the bomb factory contained such a quantity of ammunition. The Ministry of Defense believes that it did nothing wrong in the procedure and execution of the attack.

Two years ago, NOS and NRC revealed that US soldiers had calculated exactly what the damage from a bombing would be, but not what would happen if the bomb-making plant exploded. The American soldier responsible for the calculation later said that there was no information on “the quantity and type of ammunition in the factory”. Therefore, it was impossible to calculate the possible damage and therefore “it is not reasonable to assume that there would be no collateral damage”.

The Netherlands took an unacceptable risk with the attack, lawyer Zegveld said. “The state knew or should have known that the airstrike could cause a large number of civilian casualties,” she said in the subpoena. She accused the Netherlands of not having made a serious calculation to estimate the impact of the explosion.

Zegveld added that the attack brought little benefit to the military, with US soldiers speaking of a “moderate negative effect” on ISIS in the assessments. Because it was impossible to calculate the damage from an explosion, this limited military advantage could not be properly weighed against possible civilian deaths, the lawyer said. According to her, the Netherlands should not have consented to the air raid.

The Netherlands also failed to carry out a timely, adequate or independent investigation into the bombing, despite being required to do so by the European Convention on Human Rights, Zegveld said.