Iraqi’s military on Sunday said 61 bodies had been recovered from a collapsed building that was booby trapped by Islamic State in western Mosul, but there was no sign it had been hit by a coalition strike though a large vehicle bomb was discovered nearby.
The statement was a response to reports by eyewitnesses and local officials that as many as 200 bodies had been pulled from a collapsed building after a coalition strike last week targeted IS militants and equipment in the Jidideh district.
Exactly what happened remains far from clear with differing death tolls and details that are difficult to confirm as Iraqi forces battle with Islamic State to recapture the densely populated parts of the western half of Mosul, the militant group’s last stronghold in Iraq.
The US-led coalition Saturday said it carried out a strike on IS 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 eyewitnesses had told troops that the buildings were booby trapped and militants had forced residents inside basements to use them as human shields. IS militants had also fired on troops from those houses, it said.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting IS said in a statement that it had “opened a formal civilian casualty credibility assessment” into the allegation that recent coalition airstrikes killed more than 100 civilians in Mosul’s Jidideh neighborhood.
“Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS’s inhuman tactics terrorizing civilians, using human shields and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighborhoods,’’ a coalition statement said. ISIS is another acronym for the Islamic State group.
‘All reasonable precautions’
The statement also said coalition planes “routinely strike” IS targets in the neighborhood, and that coalition forces “take all reasonable precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.”
Before the U.S. announcement Saturday, Colonel John Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told The New York Times the military was not sure whether the explosion in western Mosul had been caused by an American or other coalition airstrike, or an IS “bomb or booby trap.”
But an Iraqi officer told the newspaper he knew exactly what had happened.
Major General Maan al-Saadi, a commander of the Iraqi special forces, told the Times that his men had called in a coalition airstrike to deal with snipers on the roofs of three houses in Jidideh. He said, however, his forces did not know the basements of the houses were filled with civilians.
Nawfal Hammadi, governor of the territory surrounding Mosul, told the French news agency AFP that IS jihadists had gathered civilians in the basement of the building to use them as “human shields.”
“The Daesh [Islamic State] terrorist organization is seeking to stop the advance of the Iraqi forces in Mosul at any cost,” he said, referring to IS by an Arabic acronym.
More than a half-million civilians are still believed to remain in IS-held areas of Mosul. Civilians, humanitarian aid groups and monitoring officials have warned about the possibility of increased civilian casualties because of a growing demand for airstrikes and artillery.
Reuters contributed to this report.