[JURIST] From US Central Command [official website] Wednesday, in indirect reference to what has been described in press reports [BBC News report] as a bombing of a Baghdad market early Wednesday (local time) that killed 14 Iraqi civilians:
COALITION FORCES STRIKE MISSILE LAUNCHERS IN BAGHDAD; CIVILIAN DAMAGE POSSIBLERead the full CENTCOM press release. Incidental harm to unintended civilian targets in war is often called "collateral damage":
SOUTHWEST ASIA - Coalition aircraft used precision-guided weapons to target nine Iraqi surface-to-surface missiles and launchers in Baghdad at approximately 3 a.m. EST. The missiles and launchers were placed within a civilian residential area. Most of the missiles were positioned less than 300 feet from homes. A full assessment of the operation is ongoing. Military targets such as the missiles and launchers placed in Baghdad are a threat to Coalition military forces and will be attacked. While the Coalition goes to great lengths to avoid injury to civilians and damage to civilian facilities, in some cases, such damage is unavoidable when the regime places military weapons near civilian areas.
Collateral or incidental damage occurs when attacks targeted at military objectives cause civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects. It often occurs if military objectives such as military equipment or soldiers are situated in cities or villages or close to civilians. Attacks that are expected to cause collateral damage are not prohibited per se, but the laws of armed conflict restrict indiscriminate attacks. Article 57 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions [text] states that, in an international conflict, "constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians, and civilian objects." In addition, under Article 51, carpet bombing is prohibited, as are attacks that employ methods and means of combat whose effects cannot be controlled. Finally, attacks are prohibited if the collateral damage expected from any attack is not proportional to the military advantage anticipated. Military commanders in deciding about attacks have to be aware of these rules and either refrain from launching an attack, suspend an attack if the principle of proportionality is likely to be violated, or replan an attack so that it complies with the laws of armed conflict.Learn more about collateral damage from the Crimes of War project.