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The Islamic State's 'Human Shield' War Crimes in Fallujah

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In mid-May, Iraqi officials and U.S. advisers expressed deep concern that Islamic State fighters defending the city of Fallujah would employ "human shields."

On May 31, Islamic State fighters began using human shields -- hostages -- to blunt an Iraqi Army attack in Fallujah's southern neighborhoods. Fox News reported that the shields consisted of "several hundred" families -- in other words, an entire neighborhood. A USA Today source reported that Islamic State thugs were "locking some families down inside the hospital building." The Iraqi government and the UN also estimated at least 50,000 innocent people were trapped in Fallujah.


Human shield is a euphemism for a hostage placed between an attacker and a legitimate military target. The objective is to stop the attack or, failing that, forcing the attacker to shed innocent blood. It is a purposeful, calculated war crime. Using prisoners of war as "human shields" during World War II was the subject of several post-war war crimes trials.

Terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas frequently employ fellow Muslims as flesh and blood armor. They will invoke the term "involuntary martyrdom," suggesting Muslims killed by attackers (usually Israelis) will enter Paradise as martyrs. An Islamic State-affiliate terror group in the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf, has used a variant. Abu Sayyaf has warned Filipino security forces that its fighters will execute hostages if Filipino troops approach their base camps.

Saddam Hussein employed human shields. Some political commentators are committed to the foolish notion that Iraq was better off under Saddam and his murderous dictatorship, but they peddle a grand falsehood that relies on willful loss of memory. How many Iraqis did Saddam murder during his 23 years in power? One reliable source estimates 600,000 people were executed -- and that is a genocidal figure. Kurds and Shia contend he murdered at least 200,000 more. For comparison, 800,000 people were killed in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Genocide and the use of human shields go hand in hand. Saddam hid command bunkers, radars, weapons and ammo dumps in civilian neighborhoods. His goal was to deter U.S. and coalition air attacks on logistics and anti-aircraft defense and surveillance systems. He didn't limit "neighborhood shields" to Desert Storm and the U.S. invasion in 2003. He used them during the "slow war" the U.S. fought from 1992 through 2003 to enforce UN post-Desert Storm sanctions. That "slow war" has faded from media memory, but it happened.


During Desert Storm, and again in 2003, Saddam employed another variant: volunteer human shields. Many of these volunteers were European leftists who came to Iraq to battle American imperialism. They would handcuff themselves to buildings to deter U.S. attack. They also handed Saddam a propaganda boon. The volunteers would go on television and accuse the U.S. of committing war crimes.

Honest observers acknowledge that those who use human shields are the war criminals.

According to Iraqi sources, the Islamic State has somewhere between 500 to 1,500 fighters in Fallujah, far too few to hold the city. Islamic State commanders know this, but they appear to believe defending Fallujah serves two purposes. They want to force the Iraqi military to fight for every street and alley and suffer very high casualties -- a Stalingrad-type battle. Every rubble pile may hide an IED or other booby-traps. High Iraqi military casualties could shake the politically fragile Iraqi government. A bitter, drawn out fight could force Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition to stall or halt the looming attack on Mosul, the Islamic State caliphate's capital.

"Human shields" make it more tactically and politically difficult for the Iraqi military to use U.S. and coalition air power (air attacks) and artillery to destroy or suppress Islamic State defenses.

The Islamic State may use Fallujah as an apocalyptic execution chamber. Cell phone camera videos recording the gruesome deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians might also topple the Iraqi government.


Genocidal warfare? Like Saddam, Islamic State commanders and fighters are not only war criminals, they are genocidaires.

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