Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
31 Killed, Including 24 Children, in
Government Airstrike on School Sheltering Displaced People in Tikrit
HRW, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 15, 2014
(Erbil, September 14, 2014) –
Iraqi government should promptly investigate an airstrike that hit a
school housing displaced people near Tikrit on September 1, 2014, Human
Rights Watch said today. The attack killed at least 31 civilians, including
24 children, and wounded 41 others. According to three survivors, no
fighters from the armed group Islamic State or other military objects were
in or around the school at the time.
The attack occurred around 11:30
p.m. on September 1 on the Al-Alam Vocational High School for Industry in
the Alwayi Al-Thawri neighborhood of Al-Alam, 18 kilometers northeast of the
city of Tikrit. The area is under the control of Islamic State, formerly
known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS).
“Iraq’s allies in
the fight against ISIS need to put pressure on Baghdad to stop this kind of
Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch. “ISIS is
incredibly brutal, but that’s no excuse for what the Iraqi government is
On September 13, new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi
ordered the Iraqi Air Force to “halt shelling of civilian areas even in
those towns controlled by ISIS.” The unprecedented order could help minimize
civilian casualties but accountability for past unlawful attacks is still
needed, Human Rights Watch said.
The three survivors and a local
resident told Human Rights Watch that they heard an aircraft, most likely a
helicopter, fly over the area shortly before midnight, followed by a large
explosion at the school. The unidentified munition hit the school courtyard,
where dozens of displaced people from Tikrit had gathered.
Based on a
list provided by one of the survivors, the attack killed six men, eight
women, and 24 children. Thirty-two people died immediately and six died
later from their wounds, the survivor said. Fifteen of the 41 wounded were
The member of parliament from Al-Alam, Ashwaq al-Jabouri,
said that 31 people died in the attack and 11 were wounded. She called
on the presidency of the Iraqi parliament to investigate.
government told Human Rights Watch on September 13 that the pilot involved
had targeted a car that the military thought was transporting Islamic State
fighters. The car drove near the school and was apparently carrying
explosives when the missile struck it, causing an explosion that was “far
larger than normal,” the government said.
The three survivors,
interviewed by phone, told Human Rights Watch that about 70 people from the
extended Jurefat family had been living in the school for about two months
prior to the attack. The group had fled Tikrit when the Islamic State took
that city in late June. ISIS seized control of Al-Alam on June 23 after
townspeople fought them for two weeks.
“There was no ISIS in the
school,” one of the survivors said. “We’re all tribesmen and according to
our traditions we don’t let strangers sit with our families.”
State fighters were in the Al-Alam area and the Alwayi Al-Thawri
neighborhood, including at times in a police station 250 meters west of the
school, two of the survivors and two local residents said. But the three
survivors Human Rights Watch interviewed said there were no fighters or
military equipment in or around the school at the time of the attack.
Two of the survivors and one neighborhood resident said Islamic State
fighters had fired at an Iraqi government aircraft flying over the town at
about 6 p.m. on September 1, approximately five hours before the attack on
the school. There was no fighting in the area after that, they said.
The Iraqi military has carried out multiple attacks in Tikrit and nearby
areas in its fight against Islamic State. One man who fled Tikrit told Human
Rights Watch that a government airstrike on August 27 hit a home where his
family and eight others, all from the extended Albu Nassir family, were
staying in the village of Samra, eight kilometers north of Al-Alam. The
attack killed six members of the man’s family, including two children and
two pregnant women, and wounded 20 other people, he said.
Human Rights Watch
documented 17 Iraqi airstrikes that killed at least 75 civilians and
wounded hundreds of others, including six attacks with barrel bombs. The
attacks took place in Fallujah, Beiji, Mosul, Tikrit, and al-Sherqat.
The attacks revealed a pattern of aerial bombardments in residential
areas by government forces using helicopters, jets, and other aircraft. The
attacks hit areas around mosques, government buildings, hospitals, and power
and water stations.
The United States has sent Iraq military aid,
including Hellfire missiles, ammunition, and surveillance drones, since
January. The Iraqi government’s ongoing unlawful attacks suggest that the
government could use US weapons in ways that unlawfully kill civilians. On
August 8, the US began airstrikes against select Islamic State targets.
Foreign governments providing Iraq with military support and assistance
should ensure that their aid is not being used in violations of the laws of
war, Human Rights Watch said.
The laws of war oblige all parties to
take all feasible precautions at all times to minimize the risk to civilian
life and to civilian objects. Islamic State forces are therefore required to
avoid, to the greatest extent possible, deploying their forces in buildings
with a civilian purpose or near civilians. When they fail to do so, however,
the Iraqi government still needs to take account of the risk to, and likely
impact on, civilians before launching an attack.
“The fight against
the shockingly abusive Islamic State cannot be carte blanche for the Iraqi
government to kill dozens of civilians without a clear military target,”
Abrahams said. “The US and others giving military aid to Iraq need to ensure
that their weapons are not being used to break international law.”
Accounts of the September 1, 2014 Al-Alam Attack
One survivor of the Al-Alam school attack said he was spared because he
was near the bathrooms when the munition hit the courtyard:
Suddenly we saw a huge flame that struck. I was near the bathrooms. There
was a lot of flying shrapnel. When I ran toward the flame I found my family
killed and wounded. I lost four of my relatives, three of my children, and
The man said he also lost his brother, nephew, and niece.
Another survivor said he heard what he thought was a helicopter about
11:30 p.m. and then saw a huge explosion in the school courtyard:
I lost my father, brother, and sister, and my mother was severely
wounded, which led to the amputation of her left leg. My cousin is still in
intensive care. My wife endured two operations. Fourteen members of our
family are severely wounded and 15 lightly wounded.
The man had shrapnel
injuries in his legs and back and was evacuated first to Hawija and then to
Kirkuk, both nearby cities, for treatment.
A third survivor, who was
also wounded, said the men were sitting apart from the women and children in
the courtyard when the munition struck. He lost his wife, two sons, a
daughter, a sister, and a nephew. Five members of his family were wounded,
including his son Yazin, who was six months old. “There was no fighting at
all before the attack,” he said.
Two men who live near the school
said they heard the attack at about 11:30 that night and quickly went to the
school. One of them said that when he got there he saw Islamic State
fighters keeping civilians away from the school and evacuating the wounded.
“I saw no wounded or killed ISIS fighters,” he said.
The man said
that he had seen ISIS fighters shooting at an Iraqi plane in his
neighborhood at about 6 p.m. A few minutes later a drone flew over the area
but the fighters did not shoot at it, he said.
One of the survivors
said that the morning after the attack, relatives of those killed traveled
in a convoy of minivans to a nearby cemetery to bury the dead. As they
approached the cemetery at around noon, a munition fired from a plane struck
the ground about 100 meters in front of them in what he believed to be an
attack on the funeral gathering. No one was wounded.
The survivor and
a local resident who accompanied the group said the relatives sought shelter
in a nearby house and then took the bodies to the cemetery one by one for
As of September 10, 13 of the wounded survivors were
receiving medical treatment in Kirkuk, one of the survivors said. He claimed
that Kurdish authorities controlling the city, fearful of the influx of
Arabs from areas held by Islamic State, were not letting him into the city
to see his injured relatives. When his son died in the hospital on September
8, he had to get the body at a checkpoint, he said.
For accounts by survivors and area residents, please see below.
For a list of the dead and wounded, please visit:
Human Rights Watch reporting on Iraq, please visit:
For more information,
In Geneva, Fred Abrahams (English, German):
+1-646-258-7854 (mobile); or
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @fredabrahams
In New York, Erin
Evers (English, Arabic): +1-917-362-0103 (mobile); or
email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @ErinHRW
Share this article with your facebook friends