Near the governate building in western Mosul in February 2017. Photo: Ahmed Omer | Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The US White House said “credible allegations” of civilian casualties in western Mosul should be investigated and that the US-led coalition “take every effort” to avoid civilian casualties, a day after it was reported an Iraqi politician and businessman claimed 3,500 civilians have been killed in western Mosul.
“If there’s credible allegations of civilian casualties as a result of Iraqi Security Forces’ actions or, frankly, of the coalition’s actions, then they should be investigated. I just don’t have any kind of visibility on these precise – or these exact allegations,” said Mark Toner, acting spokesperson of the State Department during Wednesday’s press briefing.
Toner was asked about a Reuters news agency story that reported Khamis Khanjar, the founder of the Office of the Arab-Sunni Representative for Iraq (OASRI) a group that organizes Sunni political coalitions in Iraq, said at least 3,500 civilians have been killed since the push into the western side of the side last month.
"There were heavy casualties due to speeding up of military operations and we see this as a big mistake and residents who are in touch with have much more fear than in the past of the ongoing military operations," Khanjar added in an interview in Amman.
"We hope the U.S. led coalition doesn't hurry up in this way without taking into consideration the human lives.”
The US-led international coalition against ISIS releases a monthly report on civilian casualty allegations, however in the past, US military officials have said they don’t have access to the same types of information as local organizations and non-governmental information.
“To date [March 4], based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses that, it is more likely than not, at least 220 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve,” a coalition press release stated.
“We regret the unintentional loss of civilian lives resulting from Coalition efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria and express our deepest sympathies to the families and others affected by these strikes.
The United Nation’s humanitarian in Iraq, Lise Grande, claimed in January that tut of all the people who have been wounded by gunshots since the operation began, “47 percent of all casualties are civilians,”
Grande’s statistics were for eastern Mosul, where 450,000 people were living.
Western Mosul was estimated to be home to about 750,000 people prior to the start of Iraqi armed forces’ operations to retake the city from ISIS on February 19.
In the past week, Iraqi and humanitarian officials estimate that around 600,000 still remain in the densely-populated city.
Toner said every effort is made to avoid civilian causalities when the US makes airstrikes, and that it also shares information with Iraqi forces.
“I can only say that we stand by what we said before, which is we take every effort in carrying out our own airstrikes, but also in sharing information with Iraqi Security Forces, to – obviously, to avoid civilian casualties,” Tonner added during the press briefing.
After the commencement of the battle for western Mosul, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said civilians were assisting the country’s forces in providing information on ISIS positions.
“People from inside Mosul are helping our forces in determining ISIS positions on the right bank of the city, which our forces will then target without risking civilian lives. At first, the planes will photograph ISIS positions to ensure there are no civilians there, and then bomb it,” Abadi said.
“Unfortunately, ISIS uses mosques, schools, government buildings, peoples’ houses to commit acts of terror. The army’s helicopters and the coalition’s fighter jets accurately target the enemy’s sensitive positions. No activity is done without consent from the military’s high command.”