Fmr. Defense Min. may have informed Dutch PM about civilian casualties in Iraq bombings

Former Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert says that in 2015 she verbally informed then Minister Bert Koenders of Foreign Affairs about possible civilian deaths during a bombardment by Dutch F-16s in Iraq, and she may also have told Prime Minister Mark Rutte. She did not mention how many victims there were, only that there may have been civilian casualties, Minister Ank Bijleveld of Defense said in a letter to parliament on Monday night, NOS reports.

Both Koenders and Rutte say they don't remember having such a conversation with Hennis-Plasschaert. But Rutte does not rule out completely that it did happen. According to Hennis-Plasschaert, her conversation with Koenders and maybe Rutte was "not alarming in tone". She had said that when the Dutch F-16 fighter jets bombed a bomb factory in Hawija, there were secondary explosions and that further investigation will have to show whether civilians died. 

The attack, which happened on 3 June 2015, left around 70 civilians dead. The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, was only officially informed about the civilian deaths in two Dutch bombings last month - over four years after the fact. That happened after NOS and NRC reported about the deaths. 

In the letter Bijleveld sent to the Kamer on Monday, she wrote that a group of officials from various Ministries discussed the Hawija bombing a day after it happened. In that discussion it was mentioned that Iraq media reported possible civilian deaths. Rutte's Ministry of General Affairs was not involved in this discussion, but he could have informed himself about what was said via the list of decisions, according to NOS. 

Despite being aware of possible civilian casualties almost immediately after the Hawija bombing, Hennis-Plasschaert twice told the Kamer at the end o June 2015 that there were no civilian deaths that she knew about. This withholding of information resulted in GroenLinks filing a motion of no confidence against Bijleveld early this month. The motion was supported by almost the entire opposition, but Bijleveld survived. 

The Defense Minister will now retroactively provide the Kamer with an overview of all Dutch actions in Iraq between 2014 and 2018. In order to prevent any uncertainty in the future, she promised to inform the Kamer as soon as possible about any possible civilian casualties caused by Dutch weapons in the future.

The Tweede Kamer will again discuss the bombardments and civilian casualties later this week.