Top US general promises investigation into civilian deaths in Western Mosul

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Iraqi families flee the fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State jihadists around Mosul. File photo: AFP

ARA News

Gen. Joseph Votel of the U.S. Central Command on Monday promised an investigation into civilian deaths in Western Mosul by coalition airstrikes.

According to local media reports and the air strikes monitoring website Air Wars there has been a huge jump in civilian casualties after Iraqi forces launched the campaign to take Western Mosul from ISIS. Allegedly hundreds of civilians died in recent air strikes and fighting.

“The death of innocent civilians in Mosul is a terrible tragedy. We are investigating the incident to determine exactly what happened and will continue to take extraordinary measures to avoid harming civilians,” he said.

“While Iraq’s security forces are making measurable progress, the fight in Mosul is a difficult one, and particularly because the enemy operates amongst the civilian population,” General Votel said. “Recognizing this, the Iraqi ground forces and the Coalition forces supporting them, have taken deliberate actions to minimize unnecessary suffering.”

“While I am confident ISIS will be defeated, there is tough fighting still ahead and we will continue to prioritize the protection of the people of Iraq in the conduct of all operations,” he stated.

An increase in civilian casualties was reported after a coalition airstrike on ISIS-hedl Western Mosul on March 17.

“An initial review of strike data from March 16-23 indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi Security Forces, the Coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in West Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties,” the coalition said in a previous statement.

“CJTF-OIR takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and a formal Civilian Casualty Credibility Assessment has been opened to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties,” the coalition added.

However, the US-led coalition also blamed ISIS for using inhuman tactics, including human shields.

“The Coalition respects human life, which is why we are assisting our Iraqi partner forces in their effort to liberate their lands from ISIS brutality.  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 added.

“The Coalition issues a monthly civilian casualty report press release with results of credible and non-credible allegations, and those still pending assessment. Coalition forces work diligently and deliberately to be precise in our airstrikes.  Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and take all reasonable precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians,” the coalition concluded.

The Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) foreign relations head Fala Mustafa Bakir on Sunday confirmed the loss of civilian lives in Mosul.

“My heart goes out to the families of the victims of the unfortunate tragic strike in Mosul where scores of innocent civilians were killed,” he tweeted.

Reportedly, the Iraqi security forces have barred reporters from visiting Western Mosul, after allegations of civilian deaths were made.

The Iraq Joint Operations Command in a statement said that there were attempts to deceive the public opinion by amplifying narratives ‘full of exaggerations and major errors.’

“A team of military experts was formed from field commanders to inspect the house where the media reported, the house was completely destroyed 100% and all its walls are booby-trapped and there is no hole or indication that was subjected to an air strike,” the command said. “And [they] found a large VBIED and detonator, they conducted evacuation of 61 bodies and during the talk with eyewitnesses from the area, said that the house was bombed and forced families to go down to the basements and used these houses for suicide bombers to fire at our security forces.”

“We ask all media and political figures to be careful and take information from their official sources to find out the facts. Our forces are still engaged in fierce battles and sacrifices to liberate our people of Ninawa. Investigations are ongoing,” the joint operation command said.

Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch, told ARA News that the incident needs to be investigated and civilian deaths should be avoided.

“While it is not entirely clear what happened on March 17 in west Mosul, it is clear that dozens of civilians were killed and that their deaths need to be investigated,” Wille said. “The high number of civilian deaths allegedly arising from airstrikes as well as possibly ground fire has also raised concerns around changes in the way the battle for west Mosul is being fought.”

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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