The government of Australia has denied compensation payment to an Iraqi man who alleged that 35 of his family members were mistakenly killed in an airstrike by the Australian Defence Force in Iraq in 2017.
The man, who did not wish to be identified, said members of his extended family were killed when an Australian airstrike targeting Islamic State instead obliterated a house where civilians were sheltering.
With assistance from Australian lawyers, he applied for what is known as an act of grace payment from the Department of Finance last year, arguing that there was strong evidence the Australian Defence Force dropped the bomb in 2017 as part of a series of airstrikes in Mosul by the coalition fighting IS.
But in December he was informed the payment would not be made, despite the delegate who made the decision not having access to an ADF report on whether one of its F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets was responsible for the airstrike.
It is understood the man, who is still based in Iraq, requested a payment in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Act of grace payments are made at the discretion of the government in special circumstances, including when a government entity has taken an action with an unintended result and no other compensation is available.
The man claims 35 people from his extended family, including 14 children, nine women and two imams, seven of whom were direct family members, died when a bomb was dropped on a house in the Al Shafaar neighbourhood on 13 June 2017.
In his application for an act of grace payment, the man’s Australian lawyers referred to information they argued supported the contention the ADF was responsible for the airstrike.
This information included media statements made by the ADF confirming its involvement in coalition airstrikes that may have killed civilians in the same neighbourhood on the same day.
In February 2019, the chief of joint operations, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, told reporters that two Australian planes had each dropped 500-pound bombs in Al Shafaar on 13 June 2017.
The airstrikes had come at the request of Iraqi security forces, Hupfield said, who were fighting a desperate battle against IS to recapture the western part of Mosul.
It was not until seven months later that the coalition became aware of reports the strikes had killed civilians after the matter was the subject of a report on the Airwars website, Hupfield said.
Hupfield said that because of this delay the ADF had been unable to verify how many civilians were killed, and whether the deaths occurred as a result of the Australian airstrike, nearby coalition airstrikes or “from other actors”. It was estimated that between six and 18 civilians had been killed.
He said the allegation the coalition was responsible for the deaths was assessed as “credible” but noted a degree of uncertainty surrounding the incident, including that the information provided about the strike did not “precisely correspond” with that held by the ADF.
“We do not definitively know how these people were killed, but we do know from our review of the events that our aircrew made no error in this mission,” Hupfield said.
In January 2019, the US defence department also assessed the report of civilian casualties as a result of a coalition airstrike as “credible”, finding that it was “likely” that 11 civilians were killed as a result of two coalition engagements on the same street.
In the decision to deny the man an act of grace payment, the finance department delegate makes clear they have not seen the ADF report on the airstrikes.
But the delegate said they nonetheless accepted the ADF’s advice that its investigation found there was no proof civilians were killed by an Australian airstrike.
A spokesperson for the finance department said it did not comment on individual act of grace payments. The department approved 166 act of grace payments totalling more than US$16m last financial year. (Source: The Guardian)