61 bodies pulled from collapsed Mosul building: Iraqi army

Volunteers carting away the bodies of civilians found among the rubble of a collapsed building in Mosul's al Jadida district.
Volunteers carting away the bodies of civilians found among the rubble of a collapsed building in Mosul's al Jadida district.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

BAGHDAD • Iraq's military yesterday said 61 bodies were recovered from a collapsed building that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) booby-trapped in west Mosul, but there was no sign it had been hit by a coalition strike although a large vehicle bomb was found nearby.

The military statement differed from reports by witnesses and local officials that as many as 200 bodies had been pulled from a collapsed building after a coalition strike targeted ISIS militants and equipment in the al Jadida district. What happened on March 17 remains unclear and details are difficult to confirm as Iraqi forces battle ISIS to recapture densely populated parts of the western half of Mosul, the militants' last stronghold in Iraq.

But the incident highlights the complexity of fighting in west Mosul, where militants hide among families, using them as shields and putting at risk as many as half a million people still caught in ISIS-held areas.

The US-led coalition backing Iraqi forces on Saturday said it carried out a strike on ISIS militants and equipment in the area of the reported deaths, but it was still investigating. It did not give figures for any casualties or details on targets.

The Iraqi military command said witnesses had told troops that the building was booby-trapped and militants had forced residents inside basements to use them as human shields. ISIS militants had also fired on troops from houses, it said.

A coalition air strike had hit the area, but a military team had not found any sign the collapsed building had been hit.

"A team of military experts... checked the building where the media reported that the house was completely destroyed. All walls were booby-trapped and there is no hole that indicates an air strike," the statement said. "Sixty-one bodies were evacuated," it added.

Its figures were lower than those from local officials. A local municipal official on Saturday said 240 bodies had been pulled from the rubble. A local lawmaker and two witnesses said a coalition air strike may have targeted a large truck bomb, triggering a blast that collapsed nearby buildings.

Mr Ghazwan al-Dawoodi, head of the local Nineveh governate human rights council, said his team had made a field visit and said 173 people were killed after militants forced them into a bunker, and opened fire on gunships to prompt an air strike.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline '61 bodies pulled from collapsed Mosul building: Iraqi army'. Print Edition | Subscribe