Tuesday 10 December 2019

Defence minister ‘probably’ told Mark Rutte about Iraq bombing casualities

An F16 at the Volkel airbase. Photo: U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

Former defence minister Jeanine Hennis did verbally inform then-foreign minister Bert Koenders in 2015 about possible civilian casualties due to a Dutch bombing raid in Iraq and ‘probably’ told prime minister Mark Rutte, current defence minister Ank Bijleveld has told MPs.

Bijleveld was responding to MPs concerns about the revelation that a Dutch fighter jet was responsible for the death of 70 civilians during the raid on an IS bomb factory.

Rutte has said he cannot remember being told about the Dutch involvement in the bombing but has been coming under increasing pressure to state what he did know.

Bijleveld earlier told MPs that Hennis had wrongly told parliament that no Dutch plane was involved.

She has now told MPs in a briefing that a group of civil servants from various ministries discussed the factory bombing on June 4, the day after the attack, and that the discussions included reference to Iraqi press reports about civilian casualties. Rutte’s department was not present at those talks, the records show.

Dutch F16s were used in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2016 and in 2018 as part of the international coalition against IS. In total they were involved with 2,100 bombing raids.

Dutch military operations are extremely sensitive to the possibility of civilian casualties since the Srebrenica massacre in 1998, and all involvement in military missions has to be cleared by parliament.

MPs are due to debate the Iraq bombing issue on Wednesday.

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