Coalition says it hit Mosul site where civilians reportedly killed

An elderly Iraqi reflects as bodies of civilians are carried out from the rubble of a bombed building in Mosul. Iraqi officials and witnesses say strikes in west Mosul have killed dozens of people in recent days, but the number of victims could not b
An elderly Iraqi reflects as bodies of civilians are carried out from the rubble of a bombed building in Mosul. Iraqi officials and witnesses say strikes in west Mosul have killed dozens of people in recent days, but the number of victims could not be independently confirmed.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

BAGHDAD • The US-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) yesterday said it had struck a location in west Mosul where some civilians were reportedly killed by aerial bombing.

Iraqi officials and witnesses say that strikes in west Mosul have killed dozens of people in recent days, but the number of victims could not be independently confirmed, and the toll from the specific strike referenced by the coalition was unclear.

It said at the beginning of this month that "it is more likely than not, at least 220 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes", while other incidents were still under investigation.

If confirmed, the series of air strikes - between March 17 and 23 - would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003.

"An initial review of strike data... indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi security forces, the coalition struck (ISIS) fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties," the US Central Command said yesterday.

The US has been bombing ISIS in Iraq since August 2014, and international strikes against the militants have played a major role in helping the country's forces push them back. ISIS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since regained much of the territory they lost.

They launched the operation to recapture Mosul last October, taking back the city's east before setting their sights on the smaller but more densely populated west.

The reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents in Syria, where the coalition is also battling ISIS militants from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.

Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths has raised questions about whether once- strict rules of engagement meant to minimise civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight ISIS more aggressively.

Major-General Maan al-Saadi, a commander of the Iraqi special forces, had told the media earlier the civilian deaths in Mosul were a result of a coalition air strike that his men had called in, to take out snipers on the roofs of three houses in a neighbourhood called Mosul Jidideh. He said the special forces were unaware that the houses' basements were filled with civilians.

"I think it was a trap by ISIS to stop the bombing operations and turn public opinion against us," the general said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Coalition says it hit Mosul site where civilians reportedly killed'. Print Edition | Subscribe