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Iraq: Airstrikes kill dozens of IS fighters near Syria border

Strikes hit three Islamic State targets in Baaj, a remote town near the Syrian border, killing up to 200 jihadists

A man exits house damaged during fights between Iraq security forces and Islamic State on the western side of Mosul, Iraq, Friday, March 24, 2017.  (Felipe Dana/AP)
A man exits house damaged during fights between Iraq security forces and Islamic State on the western side of Mosul, Iraq, Friday, March 24, 2017. (Felipe Dana/AP)

BAGHDAD — Iraqi fighter jets have carried out airstrikes against the Islamic State group outside Mosul, killing more than 100 jihadists, a government statement said Saturday.

The strikes hit three IS targets in Baaj, a remote northwestern town near the Syrian border, and killed between 150-200 militants, the statement said, adding that the militants had crossed over from Syria, suggesting that IS still enjoys free movement across the borders.

The statement didn’t say when the strikes happened and officials were not available to offer more details. It could not be immediately verified.

Airstrikes by Iraqi Air Force and US-led international coalition have been vital to the months-long operation to retake Mosul from IS. In January, Iraqi authorities declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated.” Fighting is underway to recapture the city’s western side.

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At least 300 civilians have been killed in the offensive against IS in the western half of Mosul since mid-February, according to the UN human rights office — including 140 killed in a single March 17 airstrike on a building. Dozens more are claimed to have been killed in another strike last weekend, according to Amnesty International, and by similar airstrikes in neighboring Syria in the past month.

In Syria, as fighting around Raqqa intensified, civilian fatalities from coalition airstrikes rose to 198 in March — including 32 children and 31 women — compared to 56 in February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents Syria’s war. Over the course of the air campaign, from September 2014 through February, an average of 30 civilians were killed a month, according to the Observatory.

Civil protection rescue team work on the debris of a destroyed house to recover the body of people killed during fights between Iraq security forces and Islamic State on the western side of Mosul, Iraq, Friday, March 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Civil protection rescue team work on the debris of a destroyed house to recover the body of people killed during fights between Iraq security forces and Islamic State on the western side of Mosul, Iraq, Friday, March 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The US military is investigating what role the US played in the March 17 airstrike in Mosul, and American and Iraqi officials have said militants may have deliberately gathered civilians there and planted explosives in the building. The blast left an entire residential block flattened, reducing buildings to mangled concrete.

Islamic State group fighters have overtly used civilians as human shields, including firing from homes where people are sheltering or forcing people to move alongside them as they withdraw. The group has imposed a reign of terror across territories it holds in Syria and Iraq, taking women as sex slaves, decapitating or shooting suspected opponents and destroying archaeological sites. Mass graves are unearthed nearly every day in former IS territory.

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