US reviewing airstrike that killed 200 Iraqis

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Washington | Published: March 27, 2017 12:34:08 PM

According to US officials, the airstrike killed dozens of Al Qaeda militants gathered for a meeting near a mosque across the street.

A review of the March 17 operation was ?underway to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties?, ABC News cited the statement as saying. (Reuters)

The US military has said that an airstrike in Iraq on March 17 corresponds to a site where 200 civilians died, but it is still assessing the validity of allegations of civilian casualties. According to a task force statement on Saturday, an initial review of strike data said that “at the request of the Iraqi Security Forces the coalition struck IS (Islamic State) fighters on March 17, west Mosul, at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties”.

A review of the March 17 operation was “underway to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties”, ABC News cited the statement as saying. The statement follows a military announcement that a review of whether any of the three airstrikes in Syria and Iraq over the past week were linked to reported deaths of hundreds of civilians.

In addition to the March 17 airstrike in western Mosul, the Central Command is reviewing a March 16 airstrike near a mosque in al-Jinnah, Syria. According to US officials, the airstrike killed dozens of Al Qaeda militants gathered for a meeting near a mosque across the street.

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They emphasized the mosque was not struck and the building was not affiliated with the mosque. However, locals said dozens of worshipers were killed in the strike and the targeted building was, in fact, a mosque. The military was also reviewing an airstrike on March 20 on a school building outside Raqqa in Syria that killed dozens of civilians fleeing fighting.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrike on the school killed 33 civilians. The March 17 strike targeted three adjoining houses. According to media reports, the IS may have used civilians as human shields to guard against airstrikes on the buildings.

According to the ABC, the Iraqi military’s media operations centre has claimed that the IS was responsible for the civilian deaths.

Colonel Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the operation against the IS in Iraq, Syria and beyond, on Friday said the group has previously demonstrated disregard for civilians by “using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals and religious sites”.

A Central Command statement on Saturday said the coalition “respects human life, which is why we are assisting our Iraqi partner forces in their effort to liberate their lands from the IS.”

“Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the coalition will not abandon our commitment to Iraqi partners because of the IS’s inhuman tactics terrorising civilians.”

“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 statement said.

The US-led coalition has conducted more than 19,000 airstrikes against the IS in Iraq and Syria since the summer of 2014.

According to the UN, hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in areas under the IS control in western Mosul.

The UN said it was “profoundly concerned” over reports “of a high number of civilian casualties” in the city’s Al Jadidah area.

There are about 600,000 civilians feared trapped in western Mosul, according to the International Organisation of Migration. Iraqi forces have regained control of the city’s east, CNN reported.

Iraqi forces in March seized Mosul’s main government building and bank from the IS and are now closing in on the historic Al Nuri mosque where the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first declared Islamic caliphate.

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