Atheel al-Nujaifi, commander of the Nineveh Guards and former governor of Nineveh province. Photo: Rudaw TV
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Amid reports of rising civilian casualties in the battle to oust ISIS from west Mosul, a key Sunni leader from the province claimed Sunnis are being deliberately targeted.
On March 17, more than 100 civilians were killed in a bombing, the cause of which is still under investigation. Early reports indicated that an airstrike hit explosives laid by ISIS around a house where the extremist group had gathered tens of civilians in west Mosul’s al-Jadida neighbourhood.
The US-led coalition, who confirmed it carried out an airstrike in the area on the date in question at the request of Iraqi forces, said they are investigating the matter.
The Iraqi army’s Joint Command issued a statement on Sunday denying it was an airstrike that killed the civilians, saying that their investigations revealed all the walls of the house had been rigged with bombs by ISIS.
Other reports claim it was a car bomb.
“The explanations given by military commanders are not convincing. They say there was a car bomb in the area, whereas no such debris can be seen in the area,” Atheel al-Nujaifi, commander of the Nineveh Guards and former governor of Nineveh province, told Rudaw.
“Instead of blocking journalists and other personalities, military commanders should have given them an opportunity to visit the place so they could have a close look at the scene. We think there is some kind of whitewashing here. Hence, we call for an international investigation into this incident and other ones happening on the right bank of Mosul,” he added.
Among the organizations being denied entry to the Jadida area is Human Rights Watch, Belkis Wille, a senior researcher for the monitoring group told Rudaw. “Iraqi forces are not allowing any journalists, any organizations, and even government officials to enter the area to conduct investigations.”
She said that they are talking to local residents who have been pulling bodies of victims out of the rubble. As of Monday, they have pulled out 100 bodies and have the names of 37 others they are looking for. The witnesses reported that an entire building had collapsed on the families, but they did not know the cause.
The area remains dangerous for civilians, Wille said. “The area and neighbouring neighbourhoods are constantly being bombarded by airstrikes, by heavy artillery, by rockets, by car bombs, so the people in those neighbourhoods still inside west Mosul are really caught in the crossfires and civilian casualty numbers continue to go up.”
Nujaifi claimed that there has been a change in tactics in west Mosul, compared to the east, and he believes this is deliberate targeting of the Sunni population.
“There is a reason behind the shift in the way the operation is carried out on the right bank of Mosul. The operation was proceeding in a very organized way on the left bank where civilians were being protected. However, there is heavy bombardment on the right bank so that the city is deserted. As we know most of the places liberated are deserted of people,” he said.
“I say this without any hesitation that there is a clear targeting of the Sunnis. Mosul is currently the last Sunni city left in Iraq. This kind of targeting is finishing the Sunni community as a whole,” he declared.