Residents carry the body of several people killed in an alledged US-led coalition airstrike carried out on March 17 that hit a cluster of homes in western Mosul. Photo: AP Photo/Felipe Dana
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Iraqi military has denied that it was an airstrike that claimed at least 100 civilians lives in Western Mosul on March 17, citing an investigation by military experts that shows no sign of an airstrike against a house where the casualties were said to have taken shelter.
The Iraqi military’s Joint Command released a statement on Saturday chronicling the events on the given date in both Mosul al-jadida where the house was located, and the adjacent district of al-Risala.
The statement confirmed that the US-led anti-ISIS international coalition carried out an airstrike against ISIS positions in Western Mosul at the request of the Iraqi government.
“A team of military experts from the field commanders has been formed to check the site of the house that has been mentioned in the media and it found that the house was destroyed completely 100 percent,” the statement said, “All of its walls were rigged with bombs and there is no hole or signs that it was an air strike target,” it continued.
The Joint Command instead blames a massive car bomb for the fatalities.
“A massive exploded vehicle borne explosive device (VBID) was being found near the house, and 61 bodies have been retrieved. During the team’s conversation with witnesses, they testified that ISIS rigged the houses with explosives, and forced the families to enter the basements and use those houses by the suicide bombers to fire towards our security forces.”
The statement said that Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) had launched an attack on the adjacent al-Risala district, and ISIS used “a number of big car bombs with suicide bombers” to halt the CTS advance, but the Iraqi forces were able to bring the district under control by 6 pm that day.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says it so far confirmed the deaths of at least 100 people from the affected area.
Altaf Musani, the WHO representative in Iraq, told the Associated Press in the Jordanian capital of Amman that, “It is our understanding that there was an incident and we have worked with the local health actors and they have confirmed more than 100 are dead."
Since the start of the Mosul operations in October, Musani said, at least 5,300 people have referred to hospitals in and around the city.
Regarding the deadly incident, American officials said on Saturday that they had in fact carried out the airstrike targeting ISIS militants in Mosul, which was first reported by Rudaw on March 23.
U.S. officials did not confirm the reports of civilian casualties but instead announced they were launching an investigation. In the days following the March 17 airstrike, U.S. officials had said they were unsure whether American forces were behind the attack.
"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," the coalition said.
Iraq’s joint command confirmed the coalition airstrike on March 17, without giving details on whether or not it resulted in any civilian casualties.
“At 08:25 [a.m] an airstrike was carried out by the international coalition against a group of ISIS militants and their equipment at the request of the Iraqi force,” the Joint Command said.
The Joint Command also said that they had received accurate intelligence from the locals on that very date that ISIS was using a house, different from the targeted house where civilians were killed. It said that this house was full of explosives and civilians had been forced to stay in while stationing snipers and suicide bombers in order to blow up the place once Iraqi forces had reached the area.
“A team had been formed to check the house, and it found explosives in it and 25 women and children were kept as hostage. They all were released and they are now safe and sound.”
Commenting on the ongoing Mosul offensive Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi echoed similar concerns that ISIS militants are storing explosives in residential areas, adding that government forces precision missiles in targeting ISIS positions to avoid civilian casualties.
“More often than not, ISIS stores explosives in some buildings, and when a strike happens, it may cause an explosion and subsequent casualties,” said PM Abadi, hinting that an airstrike may have in fact taken place in the area.
Abadi also said that he has instructed Iraqi commanders to take greater precaution to avoid the loss of civilian life, and to “accelerate” the campaign to recapture the remaining areas under ISIS control.
Abadi made the remarks as he met with the commanders of the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as Popular Mobilization Units on Saturday.