- Water supplies to Tall Afar, Samarra and Fallujah have
been cut off during US attacks in the past two months, affecting up to
750,000 civilians. This appears to form part of a deliberate US policy
of denying water to the residents of cities under attack. If so, it has
been adopted without a public debate, and without consulting Coalition
partners. It is a serious breach of international humanitarian law, and
is deepening Iraqi opposition to the United States, other Coalition
and the Iraqi interim government.
- EVIDENCE FOR THE DENIAL OF WATER
- Tall Afar
- On 19 September 2004, the Washington Post reported that
US forces 'had turned off' water supplies to Tall Afar 'for at least three
days' (1). Turkish television reported a statement from the Iraqi Turkoman
Front that 'Tall Afar is completely surrounded. Entries and exits are
The water shortage is very serious' (2). Al-Manar television in Lebanon
interviewed an aid worker who stated that 'the main problem facing the
people of Tall Afar and adjacent areas is shortage of water' (3). Relief
workers reported a shortage of clean water (4). Moreover, the Washington
Post reports that the US army failed to offer water to those fleeing Tall
Afar, including children and pregnant women (5).
- 'Water and electricity [were] cut off' during the assault
on Samarra on Friday 1 October 2004, according to Knight Ridder Newspapers
(6) and the Independent (7). The Washington Post explicitly blames 'U.S.
forces' for this (8). Iraqi TV station Al-Sharqiyah reported that technical
teams were working to 'restore the power and water supply and repair the
sewage networks in Samarra' (9). Al Jazeera interviewed an aid worker who
confirmed that 'the city is experiencing a crisis in which power and water
are cut off' (10), as well as the commander of the Samarra Police, who
reported that 'there is no electricity and no water' (11).
- On 16 October the Washington Post reported that:
and water were cut off to the city [Fallujah] just as a fresh wave of
began Thursday night, an action that U.S. forces also took at the start
of assaults on Najaf and Samarra.' (12)
- Residents of Fallujah have told the UN's Integrated
Information Networks that 'they had no food or clean water and did not
have time to store enough to hold out through the impending battle' (13).
The water shortage has been confirmed by other civilians fleeing
Fadhil Badrani, a BBC journalist in Falluja, confirmed on 8 November that
'the water supply has been cut off'.
- In light of the shortage of water and other supplies,
the Red Cross has attempted to deliver water to Fallujah. However the US
has refused to allow shipments of water into Fallujah until it has taken
control of the city (15).
- Other cases
- There have been allegations that the water supply was
cut off during the assault on Najaf in August 2004, and during the invasion
of Basra in 2003. We have not investigated these claims.
- JUSTIFICATIONS FOR THE DENIAL OF WATER
- Some military analysts have attempted to justify the
denial of water on tactical or humanitarian grounds. Ian Kemp, editor of
military journal 'Jane's Defense Weekly', argues that: 'The longer the
city [Fallujah] is sealed off with the insurgents inside, the more
it is going to be for them. Eventually, their supplies of food and water
are going to dwindle' (16).
- Barak Salmoni, assistant professor in National Security
Affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, told the San
Francisco Chronicle that civilians would probably be encouraged to leave
Fallujah 'by cutting off water and other supplies' (17).
- These arguments are deeply flawed on legal, humanitarian
and political grounds. The majority of the population of Fallujah fled
before the American attack. Those who have not already fled Fallujah are
forced to remain, since roads out of the city have been blocked (18),
by British troops (19). Not only are those remaining unable to leave, but
they are likely to consist largely of those too old, weak, or ill to flee
- precisely the groups which will be most severely affected by a shortage
- REACTION IN IRAQ
- The information reported above is more widely known in
Iraq than in the US and UK, and has had become a significant political
issue. Belief that US tactics involve denial of water is widespread.
to the LA Times: 'As soon as the women of Fallouja learned that four
had been killed, their bodies mutilated, burned and strung up from a
they knew a terrible battle was coming. They filled their bathtubs and
buckets with water...' (20)
- Condemnations of the tactic have been issued by several
major Iraqi political groups. On 1 October the Iraqi Islamic Party issued
a statement criticising the US attack on Fallujah which 'cut off water,
electricity, and medical supplies', and arguing that such an approach 'will
further aggravate and complicate the security situation'. It also called
for compensation for the victims (21).
- Three days later Muqtada al-Sadr criticized both the
denial of water to Samarra, and the lack of international outrage at it:
'They say that this city is experiencing the worst humanitarian situations,
without water and electricity, but no-one speaks about this. If the wronged
party were America, wouldn't the whole world come to its rescue and
it denounce this?' (22)
- Denial of water is one of the misguided tactics which
increases distrust of the Coalition forces. Asked in June how much
they had in US and UK forces, 50.8% of participating Iraqis responded 'none
at all', with a further 29.5% saying 'not very much' (23).
- This in turn fuels anti-American violence. A spokesman
for the Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most significant Sunni
political groupings in Iraq, reported that the party's representative in
Samarra had told him that 'there was no water'. He argued that partly as
a result of this: 'The Iraqis no longer trust the Americans. It is not
a question of military manifestations. It is now a question of popular
rejection for the Americans, not for the military manifestations.'
- His analysis is confirmed by the Oxford Research
poll, according to which one third of Iraqis regard attacks against
forces as 'acceptable' (25).
- REACTION IN THE UK
- Awareness of this issue remains extremely limited among
the British public. The British government denies involvement. Despite
inquiries from CASI and others, they appear not to have raised the issue
with their American counterparts. UK Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram
has denied knowledge of US action to cut off water supplies in Tall Afar
(26), despite coverage in the Washington Post. Similarly Hilary Benn, the
UK Secretary of State for International Development, says he has not
the issue with his American counterparts (27). This lack of communication
with the American side suggests a lack of concern for the humanitarian
implications of the conflict in Iraq, and an unwillingness to comment on
American activities. Concerning British forces, Mr. Ingram has claimed
that: 'With regard to the action of our own Forces, I can also confirm
that we have not cut off water supplies to civilians. It is possible that
local temporary disruptions may have occurred at some time due to damage
from combat with anti-Iraqi Forces but we are not aware of any actual cases
where this has happened' (28). LEGAL IMPLICATIONS
- The denial of water to civilians is illegal both under
Iraqi and international law. Article 12 of the Transitional Administrative
Law, which serves as a constitution during the interim period, states
- 'Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the
of his person' (29)
- International law specifically forbids the denial of
water to civilians during conflict. Under Article 14 of the second protocol
of the Geneva Conventions,
- 'Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is
It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless
for that purpose, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian
population such as food-stuffs, agricultural areas for the production of
food-stuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies
and irrigation works.' (30)
- CASI calls on Members of Parliament to raise this issue
with ministers as a matter of urgency. The UK government must use its
with our US ally to ensure that all military operations are conducted
the bounds of international law. In addition to the suffering caused to
the civilian population, use of these tactics by US forces puts our own
troops at risk from rising insurgency.
- We hope that the issue will be taken up by international
NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Deliberate
of civilian water supplies should be a matter of concern for all who are
promoting human rights in Iraq.
- CASI urges journalists on the ground in Iraq to
the above reports further, in order to build up a clearer picture of use
of this tactic. The UK media must give greater weight to the plight of
civilian populations in their coverage of conflicts such as Fallujah. The
UK public needs to know that our Coalition partner is using this illegal
- This briefing was prepared for CASI by Daniel O'Huiginn
and Alison Klevnas. Thanks to Felicity Arbuthnot, Anne Campbell, Helena
Cobban, Mike Lewis, Rory McCarthy, Glen Rangwala, Colin Rowat, Shirin,
Jonathan Stevenson, Per Klevnas and the members of the CASI Analysis list
for their help and advice. Except where otherwise noted, extracts from
the Iraqi press and broadcast media are taken from the BBC news monitoring
- For more information on this issue, please
- Daniel O'Huiginn,
- Tel: 01223 328040
- Mobile: 07745 192426
- (1) 'After Recapturing N. Iraqi City, Rebuilding Starts
- by Steve Fainaru. 19 September 2004.
- (2) Comments by Faruq Abd-al-Rahman, leader of the Iraqi
Turkoman Front, on TRT 2 Television, Ankara, 1600 gmt 12 September
- (3) Al-Manar Television, Beirut, 0440 gmt 14 September
- (4) Al-Sharqiyah, Baghdad, 1200 gmt 15 September
- (5) 'After Recapturing N. Iraqi City, Rebuilding Starts
from Scratch', by Steve Fainaru. 19 September 2004.
- (6) 'US, Iraqi forces take control of Samarra'. By Nancy
A. Youssef and
- Patrick Kerkstra, 1 October 2004,
- (7) 'Onslaught in Samarra escalates in 'dress rehearsal'
for major US assault on rebels'. Ken Sengupta, Independent, 3
- (8) Washington Post, 16 October 2004.
- (9) Al-Sharqiyah, Baghdad, 1300GMT 8 October 2004
- (10) Al-Jazeera TV, 1505 gmt 1 October 2004
- (11) Al Jazeera TV, 1810 gmt 2 October 2004
- (12) Washington Post, 16 October 2004.
- (13) 'Iraq: thousands of residents have fled Fallujah'.
- (14) Comment by Shirin,
- (15) 'Iraq: thousands of residents have fled Fallujah'.
- (16) 'Iraq: US troops surround al-Fallujah as offensive
preparations continue'. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty feature, 8 November
- (17) San Francisco Chronicle, 6th November 2004.
- (20) LA Times, 24 October,
- (21) Statement issued by the Political Bureau of the
Iraqi Islamic Party, on 19 Sha'ban 1425 AH, corresponding to 3 Oct 2004.
Reported on Dar al-Salam radio, Baghdad in Arabic 1600 gmt 4 Oct 04
- (22) Statement by Muqtada al-Sadr on Al-Manar Television,
- Arabic 1800 gmt 4 October 2004
- (23) Survey conducted in June 2004 by Oxford Research
- June 2004 Frequency Tables.PD
- (24) Al-Jazeera TV, 1615 GMT 2 October 2004
- (25) Survey c
- June 2004 Frequency Tables.PD
- (26) Response of Adam Ingram on 25 October 2004 to
- (tabled by Llwyd, and 192090, 192089, and 192087 tabled
by Adam Price.
- (27) Response to question by Adam Price MP: Adam Price:
To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what
he has had with counterparts in the US Administration on cutting off water
supplies in Iraq.  Hilary Benn: I have had no such
- (28) Letter from Adam Ingram to Anne Campbell MP, dated
- 2004, ref D/Min(AF)/AI 4770/04/C
- (29) Law of administration for the state of Iraq for