Standing high above Mosul beside the ruins of the Nabi Yunus shrine, destroyed by Isis as idolatrous in 2014, one can see the west of the city on the far side of the Tigris River. There the Iraqi security forces and Isis are engaged in the fiercest and longest battle of the Iraq conflict. Like many battlefields, the scene is eerily pretty as spring rains turn the trees and grass a fresh green colour, and buildings are too distant to tell if they have been damaged or destroyed.
A single large column of black smoke and three smaller plumes of white smoke rise over west Mosul, but do not look very menacing. There is the crash of an artillery piece firing close by and, a few seconds later, another wisp of smoke or dust appears on the other side of the city. Isis mortar teams periodically fire in our direction and we visit the Nabi Yunus covered market where earlier a round hit a shop selling perfume which exploded into flames, killing 11 adults and a child.
In modern war, every bombardment of a city from ground and air is different, but the justification by politicians and military commanders is usually much the same. Those ordering the air, missile or artillery attacks emphasise the meticulous care they take to avoid civilian casualties and, if these inadvertently occur, it is only because of the devilish practices of the other side who are using ordinary folk as human shields. Much the same lies were used to justify the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in 1982, 1996 and 2006 and of Gaza in 2008, 2009 and 2014; the American bombing of Iraq in 1991 and 2003; the Syrian government levelling of whole towns since 2011 and the Russians doing much the same since they intervened in Syria in 2015.