BAGHDAD, Iraq — The US-led coalition against the Islamic State group said Saturday that it struck a location in west Mosul where dozens of civilians were reportedly killed by aerial bombing.
“An initial review of strike data… indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi security forces, the coalition struck (IS) fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties,” it said in a statement.
Iraqi officials and witnesses say that strikes in west Mosul have killed several hundred 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.
The coalition 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.
Hundreds of thousands more are still in danger inside the city, where Iraqi forces have recaptured a series of neighborhoods since the operation to retake west Mosul from the Islamic State group was launched last month.
Both Iraqi aircraft and those from an international US-led coalition are carrying out strikes in the Mosul area.
Dozens of bodies
“There are dozens of bodies still under the rubble,” Bashar al-Kiki, the head of the Nineveh provincial council, told AFP.
“Efforts to remove the bodies from under the rubble are ongoing,” Kiki said.
Nawfal Hammadi, the governor of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, said the coalition had carried out the strikes in the city’s Mosul al-Jadida area, killing “more than 130 civilians.”
“The Daesh terrorist organisation is seeking to stop the advance of the Iraqi forces in Mosul at any cost, and it is gathering civilians… and using them as human shields,” Hammadi told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Other officials said that hundreds of people had died in the strikes. It was not possible to independently confirm the tolls.
Omar Mohanned Sumayr and his uncle Manhal, both of whom have now fled Mosul, said that a building with 170 people inside next to their own house had been destroyed when IS forces in the area were targeted from the air.
“The house fell on the heads of the families,” Sumayr said, adding that all 170 people inside were killed.
He said that IS fighters and an explosives-rigged vehicle were targeted, while Manhal said that IS snipers firing on Iraqi forces had prompted the strike.
“Daesh snipers went up on the houses and opened fire on the Iraqi forces,” after which a plane targeted them with a missile, he said.
An Iraqi brigadier general said that strikes had damaged more than 27 residential buildings and that three of them were completely destroyed.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the strikes were carried out after IS targeted military aircraft and attacked Iraqi forces with sniper fire.
“Stunned by this terrible loss of life”
The United Nations said it was “profoundly concerned” by the reported deaths from the air raids, and called for all parties to the conflict to protect civilians in the course of the battle.
“We are stunned by this terrible loss of life and wish to express our deepest condolences to the many families who have reportedly been impacted by this tragedy,” Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement.
“Nothing in this conflict is more important than protecting civilians,” Grande said.
“International humanitarian law is clear. Parties to the conflict — all parties — are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians. This means that combatants cannot use people as human shields and cannot imperil lives through indiscriminate use of fire-power,” she said.
More than 200,000 people have fled west Mosul since Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake it on February 19, an Iraqi ministry said Saturday.
“The number of displaced from the areas of the right bank (west side) of the city of Mosul has risen to 201,275 people,” the ministry of migration and displaced said in a statement.
The UN said Thursday that there were around 600,000 people left in west Mosul, 400,000 of whom are “trapped” in the Old City area under siege-like conditions.
The US has been bombing IS in Iraq since August 2014, and international strikes against the jihadists have played a major role in helping the country’s forces push them back.
The coalition has also carried out strikes against IS in Syria.
Iraqi aircraft have also been bombing the jihadists, but have not released figures on estimated civilian casualties from strikes they have carried out.
IS 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 in October, recapturing the city’s east before setting their sights on the smaller but more densely populated west.