Two days after the US military confirmed that a coalition airstrike may have killed as many as 240 civilians in a March 17 Mosul air raid, the Pentagon found an unexpected defender when the Iraqi military said on Sunday a blast that killed scores of civilians in western Mosul was triggered by an Islamic State booby trap, contradicting local officials and residents who claimed a U.S.-led coalition airstrike caused the deaths.
An Iraqi man inspected damage on Sunday in the Mosul al-Jadeeda neighborhood
of the northern city, Mosul
The Iraqi military statement, based on an initial assessment, came a day after the U.S.-led coalition acknowledged it carried out an airstrike on March 17 at the request of Iraqi security forces against Islamic State fighters in western Mosul, the WSJ reported. The location corresponded to allegations of mass casualties. As we reported on Saturday the US-led coalition, which is backing Iraqi troops that are engaged in fierce fighting to retake the entire city from Islamic State, said it is investigating to determine if the strike caused several houses to collapse, trapping what local officials said could be up to 200 people.
As the WSJ adds, the coalition, which is backing Iraqi troops that are engaged in fierce fighting to retake the entire city from Islamic State, said it is investigating to determine if the strike caused several houses to collapse, trapping what local officials said could be up to 200 people. As we reported on Saturday, some residents had said a coalition air strike hit an explosive-filled truck, detonating a blast that collapsed buildings packed with families.
Iraq’s military denied Sunday an airstrike caused the carnage in Mosul al-Jadeeda. In a statement, it said there had been one airstrike requested by Iraqi forces that day but in a district abutting Mosul al-Jadeeda. It said Islamic State had booby trapped the houses, causing them to collapse.
Militants had herded residents into basements, then used the homes as firing positions before blowing them up along with a car bomb as Iraqi forces closed in, the Iraqi military said. It said a team of experts inspected the site and found evidence of explosives in the rubble and a car bomb detonator, but no damage consistent with an airstrike.
Local officials and residents have said that the area was subjected to several days of airstrikes and shelling before the deadly collapse.
As such a new question emerges: who is responsible if a US attack sets off a booby trap placed by ISIS that leads to hundreds of casualties. In any case, the blast, and the possible U.S.-led coalition role in it, has brought into focus the extreme dangers the latest push to root out Islamic State from Mosul poses to an estimated half million people believed to be trapped by the combat. Civilians face increasingly harrowing conditions—with dwindling food, clean water and fuel supplies—and those who flee often dodge crossfire between Islamic State and Iraqi forces.
Meanwhile, the tragedy for the thousands of innocent people on the ground continues.
After reaching a muddy field designated as a receiving center outside Mosul, Ahmed Khadim, from the Wadi Hajar district, spoke of hunger and the constant blasts that ruined his hearing.
“We were running out of food supplies day after day,” said the 33-year-old motorcycle mechanic. “The whole family at some point shared just one loaf of bread.”
Some 201,000 people have managed to escape western Mosul, according to the Iraqi government. Many have emerged with stories of leaving behind relatives buried under rubble from blasts—whether militant bombs or mortars or government-allied strikes.
Iraqi troops have been battling Islamic State in western Mosul since mid-February, after wresting back eastern Mosul from the extremist group in late January. The overall campaign to recapture Mosul began in mid-October.
Iraq’s government has refused to release casualty figures, but statistics compiled by independent groups have shown the battle for western Mosul has been far deadlier for civilians than in eastern Mosul. The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights said since February 19, 3,864 civilians have been killed in the west, compared with 2,190 killed in the three months of fighting in the east.
Iraqi politicians have raised questions over the military tactics Iraq’s security forces and their U.S.-led coalition advisers have employed in the heavily populated city. Iraq’s speaker of parliament said the Mosul al-Jadeeda incident would be the subject of a special session this week. Iraq’s defense ministry said it had launched a probe. According to a U.S. military news release from March 17, the coalition conducted four strikes in Mosul targeting numerous Islamic State positions, weapons systems, vehicles and a car bomb.
The coalition’s Saturday statement didn’t specify which of those strikes was found to have taken place in Mosul al-Jadeeda. Local residents and officials said the civilian deaths were clustered in four homes, but the level of destruction made it difficult to determine which house was apparently targeted. If confirmed that the strike killed the civilians, it would represent the largest death toll by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike since its air campaign against Islamic State began in August 2014.
As such, it is clearer why Iraq would seek to mitigate the US' role in the carnage, even if it was circumstantial.
The allegations come just days after the U.S. said it was investigating two recent reports of mass civilian casualties caused by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Syria targeting Islamic State and al Qaeda.
The U.S. military’s pace of operations has increased considerably in both countries, raising questions about the effects.
Faster approvals for coalition airstrikes have sped up attacks against the extremist group, but also raised concerns about risk to civilians.
Some blame Trump: two senior Iraqi officers from two separate branches of the security forces overseeing the fight in western Mosul said their American advisers have loosened the rules of engagement on airstrikes since President Donald Trump took office.
“The coalition has been merciless,” said one of the officers, a senior commander in the Federal Police quoted by the WSJ, praising the change. The officer said his requests for airstrikes have been approved by a major on a company level, eliminating a review period that required strike requests to go through a command center outside Mosul.