A coalition airstrike on an ISIS truck laden with explosives led to the deaths of dozens of civilians in Mosul, a senior Iraqi officer said Sunday.
The US-led coalition has acknowledged hitting a vehicle carrying explosives in the March 17 strike — though US officials have not confirmed the Iraqi military’s account of exactly what happened.
Confusion has surrounded events during airstrikes on the city between March 17 and 23 after allegations emerged that as many as 200 civilians had been killed there.
Bashar al Kiki, chairman of the Nineveh Provincial Council and the source of the death toll, backed off the figure Sunday, saying that 200 was the death toll from multiple locations, citing his sources. He did not provide further details.
The US-led coalition confirmed Saturday that it had carried out an airstrike on March 17 “at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties.”
Col. Muntathar Al-Shamari, the head of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Unit in Mosul, said Sunday that, prior to that airstrike, Iraqi counterterrorism forces had asked the US-led coalition to engage an ISIS vehicle that had been loaded with explosives.
“When the (vehicle) was struck, it exploded destroying one, or two, of the houses next to where families were hiding,” he said.
Around 130 people were hiding in one of the homes, Iraqi Joint Military Command spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said.
Earlier Sunday, the Iraqi military said 61 bodies had been pulled from the rubble at the site, adding that there was no sign the homes had been directly hit from the air. Of the 61 bodies recovered so far, it is unclear how many belong to civilians and how many might be ISIS fighters.
US and Iraqi forces have been making an all-out push to retake Mosul from ISIS since October. Iraq’s second-largest city has been under the terrorist group’s control since 2014 — and is its last major stronghold in the country.
The defense departments from both Iraq and the United States launched formal investigations Saturday into the airstrikes between March 17 and 23 and civilian deaths.
A coalition review of airstrikes during that period found only one that corresponded to reports of civilian casualties in Mosul. That was the one on March 17.
The Iraqi military said in a statement Sunday that the home it examined had been reduced to rubble, but there was no sign of it being hit from the air. The team found a vehicle bomb and detonator in the debris and that, along with witness accounts, led the team to believe that ISIS fighters had blown up the home.
The military said 25 women and children were also rescued from the location alive.
Body parts sticking out of the rubble
In several parts of western Mosul, civilians say they are being caught up in coalition airstrikes, as well as crossfire between the Iraqi forces and ISIS fighters, Reuters reports.
Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske, who visited the area in question with a civil defense group on Friday, told CNN that she saw at least 50 dead bodies, as well as body parts, sticking out of the rubble.
“Hands, feet — there were some remains that were wrapped in blankets, most of them that they had retrieved they put in body bags. And (the civil defense group) unzipped some of those because they wanted to show us that some of the victims were women, including at least one pregnant woman and children. Some babies as well,” she said.
The area was very crowded as Iraqis there said ISIS militants had forced them into the area, Hennessy-Fiske said. She said residents she spoke to said ISIS had brought a truck with explosives to the area days before the strike and that their fighters were shooting at aircraft above them when an “explosion happened.”
“Some people I talked to said the building started falling down on them. Some saw that truck that was parked on the street explode — it wasn’t clear why that was — if it was triggered by the strike or not. And some managed to escape unharmed.”
The US Central Command said in a statement Saturday that it has opened a formal probe “to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties.”
“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,” the statement said.
“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 US military is also investigating allegations of civilian casualties during two recent airstrikes in Syria.
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