In Multipolarity

Report by Amnesty International, March 28, 2017  (with extensive background reporting further below on the carnage of increased U.S. airstrikes since Trump)

Hundreds of civilians have been killed by airstrikes inside their homes or in places where they sought refuge after following Iraqi government advice not to leave during the offensive to recapture the city of Mosul from the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS), said Amnesty International. Survivors and eyewitnesses in East Mosul said they did not try to flee as the battle got underway because they received repeated instructions from the Iraqi authorities to remain in their homes.

An airstrike by U.S.-led forces of residential area of western Mosul on March 17, 2017 (Cengiz Yar, The Guardian)

The shocking spike in civilian casualties from both U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and ground fighting between the Iraqi military and IS fighters in recent months has also raised serious questions about the lawfulness of these attacks. In one of the deadliest strikes in years just days ago on 17 March 2017, up to 150 people were reported killed in a coalition airstrike [meaning ‘U.S. airstrike’] in the Jadida neighbourhood of West Mosul..

“Evidence gathered on the ground in East Mosul points to an alarming pattern of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside. The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, who carried out field investigations in Mosul.

“The fact that Iraqi authorities repeatedly advised civilians to remain at home instead of fleeing the area, indicates that coalition forces should have known that these strikes were likely to result in a significant numbers of civilian casualties. Disproportionate attacks and indiscriminate attacks violate international humanitarian law and can constitute war crimes.

“The Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition, must immediately launch an independent and impartial investigation into the appalling civilian death toll resulting from the Mosul operation.”

Rising civilian deaths in Iraq (by Sarah Almukhtar, in New York Times, source Airwars)

Fleeing the city ahead of the fighting was also extremely difficult for residents of Mosul, as IS militants routinely punished and at times killed those caught trying to leave. Wa’ad Ahmad al-Tai, a resident of the al-Zahra neighbourhood of East Mosul, was among many civilians who followed Iraqi government advice to stay put.

“We followed the instructions of the government who told us ‘stay in our homes and avoid displacement’.  According to the instructions, residents who had nothing to do with Daesh [IS, in Arabic] should stay in their homes… We heard these instructions on the radio… Also leaflets were dropped by planes. This is why we stayed in our homes,” he said.

As the fighting intensified Wa’ad Ahmad al-Tai, his brother Mahmoud and their families sought shelter at their other brother’s two-storey home hoping it would offer them more protection.

“We were all huddled in one room at the back of the house, 18 of us, three families. But when the house next door was bombed, it collapsed on us, precisely over the room we were sheltering in. My son Yusef, nine, and my daughter Shahad, three, were killed, together with my brother Mahmoud, his wife Manaya and their nine-year-old son Aws, and my niece Hanan. She was cradling her five-month-old daughter, who survived, thank God,” he said.

Hind Amir Ahmad, a 23-year-old woman who lost 11 relatives, including her parents, grand-parents and four young siblings, in a coalition airstrike in East Mosul, described the fatal attack on 13 December 2016 to Amnesty International:

“We were sleeping when the house literally collapsed on us. It was a miracle none of us was killed. We ran to my uncle’s house nearby. At about 2pm that house too was bombed and collapsed on us… almost everyone in the house was killed – 11 people. My cousin, two aunts and I were the only ones who survived. Everyone else died. It took us six days to find only pieces of their bodies, which we buried in a mass grave in a field nearby… I don’t know why we were bombed. All I know is that I have lost everyone who was dearest to me.”

In another air strike, 16 people were killed in three adjacent houses in the Hay al-Mazaraa district of East Mosul on 6 January 2017.  Survivors and neighbours told Amnesty International that in so far as they knew, no IS fighters had been present in or around the house. Among the victims were the three children and the mother of Shaima’ Qadhem, who had been arrested and killed by IS the previous year. Ahmad, a relative of the victims, told Amnesty International:

“This family was targeted by all sides. Last year Daesh arrested and executed the children’s mother and now the children themselves were killed by a coalition bombing. Civilians got trapped in this war and no one helped them. When I tried to leave Mosul with my family, we were caught by Daesh. They were going to pour petrol over us and burn us. In the end we managed to escape death by paying a heavy fine.  Others were not so lucky and were executed… Did the government, the coalition think how to protect the civilians in this war?  It doesn’t seem so.”

International humanitarian law (also called the laws of war) demands that all feasible precautions must be taken by warring parties to a conflict to minimize harm to civilians, and that attacks must not cause disproportionate harm to civilians – that is, damage which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

IS use of civilians as human shields

In many of the cases investigated by Amnesty International where civilians were killed in coalition airstrikes, surviving residents and neighbours told the organization that IS fighters had been present in or around the targeted houses – usually on the roof or in the garden – as well as in or around other nearby houses which were not targeted. In all the cases the air strikes destroyed entire houses, often also destroying or severely damaging nearby houses and properties.

“IS shamefully resorts to using civilians as human shields, a serious violation of the laws of war that amounts to a war crime. In a densely populated residential area, the risks for the civilian population become enormous. However, the IS’s use of human shields does not absolve Iraqi and coalition forces from their obligation not to launch disproportionate attacks,” said Donatella Rovera.

Mohammed, a resident of the Hay al-Dhubbat district of East Mosul who lost several relatives in a coalition air strike, told Amnesty International: “The Dawa’ish (IS militants) were everywhere and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. If you challenged them they would kill you. They ran this city for two and a half years and they were rarely targeted during all that time… Why now [are they] destroying our homes with our families inside, just to eliminate two or three Dawa’ish on the roof?”

In one case, five members of one family and their neighbour were killed and several others injured when three houses in the Hay al-Salam district of East Mosul were destroyed by coalition strikes on 5 January 2017. Survivors and neighbours told Amnesty International that IS fighters were present in a room inside the house, but were unharmed by the strike. The IS fighters were later killed by Iraqi forces who eventually reached the house.

Na’el Tawfiq AbdelHafez, whose 23-year-old son Mos’ab was killed in the strike, told Amnesty International that for months before the attack they were surrounded by fighting, with IS snipers on rooftops firing and Iraqi soldiers firing mortars into the neighbourhood.

“There was nothing we could do, we are civilians; we could not stop Daesh. When they entered my home, shortly before the strike, I tried to challenge them, to plead with them; I told them ‘what are you doing, I have a family here’. They left but as they were leaving, the house was bombed. My son was killed and the rest of us were injured. My daughter Bara’ lost an eye. But the Dawa’ish were still alive.”

Next door, Muthar Dhannun, whose sister, husband and three children were killed in the same strike, said: “Everybody knows that Daesh uses civilians as human shields, so why kill these civilians who did nothing wrong?  Civilians were made to pay the price for the crimes of Daesh. This is unfair.”

Heightened risk for civilians from ground fighting

Residents also told Amnesty International that civilians were killed and injured by indiscriminate mortar-fire launched by both IS fighters and Iraqi forces in populated residential areas.

Ali, a resident of the Hay al-Salam district of East Mosul told Amnesty International: “Mortars and bullets from both sides were flying over our heads all the time… I tried to keep my children and my family in the most inner-room in the house in the hope that if a mortar struck our home it wouldn’t get through several walls. Neighbours were killed by mortars while they were outside but in some cases also inside their homes.”

Some residents said Iraqi forces used mostly 60mm and 82mm mortars and, less frequently, 120mm mortars, whereas IS fighters mostly used 120mm mortars.

Mortars cannot be accurately directed at a military target. They are designed for battlefield use and should never be used in densely populated civilian neighbourhoods. They have varying margins of error (which can be reduced in 120mm mortars if they are fitted with laser-guided precision systems) and a blast radius ranging from some 20-25 meters for 60mm mortars to some 75 meters for 120mm mortars. In a residential environment, where streets are only a few meters wide, the mortars’ margin of error and blast radius mean that they are highly likely to cause civilian casualties in the areas around the intended target.

In the Hay al-Zahra district of East Mosul two children, five-year-old Ahmad Samir Jumaa and seven-year-old Yousef Ammar Ahmad, were both killed while playing near their homes on the afternoon of 4 December 2016.  Ahmad’s father described how he had been playing with a toy car inside the courtyard when he was struck by shrapnel all over. “His head was almost completely severed. He died instantly,” he said.

The mortar landed in the middle of a residential street less than 10 meters wide, spraying deadly shrapnel onto surrounding houses. The thick metal door leading to the courtyard where Ahmad was playing was left full of holes from the blast. The other child, Yousef, was playing in the street, much closer to the point where the mortar landed. He too was killed on the spot. Neighbours said that he was torn to shreds.

In another mortar strike on Hay al-Salam, six members of a family – four children and their parents – were killed as they sheltered in a small room at the back of their house on 7 November 2016. Only two children from the family survived, both sustaining horrific injuries as the mortar struck a fuel tank in the back yard and the whole house was engulfed with flames.

In Hay al-Shuhada in West Mosul two mortars struck near a house where 38-year-old Garha Nawaf Sallal was sheltering with her family. Her seven-year-old granddaughter was struck by shrapnel in the head, the rest of the family was also injured.

In all three cases, IS fighters were in control of the areas at the times of the mortar attacks, suggesting that the mortars were likely launched by Iraqi forces seeking to target IS fighters in the area. It is also possible, though less likely, that they were launched by IS fighters seeking to target Iraqi forces in other areas, but malfunctioned and landed short of their aim. Neighbours and witnesses to these incidents told Amnesty International that IS fighters were in the neighbourhood, but none were at or near the specific properties at the time of the strikes.

In areas recaptured by Iraqi forces, military positions were also set up in residential areas endangering civilians. Isra’ Ali, 29, told Amnesty International that her 18-month-old daughter Razan was killed when a mortar struck the courtyard of her home in the Hay al Josaq district of West Mosul. She said a Federal Police post opposite her home may have been the intended target.

Other families said that their relatives and neighbours had been killed and injured by suicide car bombs and mortars which targeted Iraqi forces in newly recaptured residential areas. Ramy, whose 10-year-old son was killed in one such mortar strike, said he was relieved when Iraqi soldiers arrived in his street. Shortly afterwards they came under attack:  “The soldiers set up positions around us and mortars from Daesh started to rain down on us. My boy was by the door which leads from the kitchen to the garage when he was hit. He was killed on the spot.”

Rawda, an elderly woman from East Mosul showed Amnesty International around her daughter’s apartment, on the top floor of the building, which was used as a sniper position first by IS fighters and later by Iraqi forces. The building sustained serious damage as a result. “Now everything is ruined. My daughter doesn’t have a home to come back to anymore and our own home is badly damaged,” she said.

“Instead of evacuating civilians from newly recaptured areas so as to minimize the risk of them being harmed in attacks, Iraqi forces appear to have endangered them further by encouraging them to remain at home and setting up military positions nearby,” said Donatella Rovera.

“All parties to the conflict must refrain from the use of mortars and other imprecise explosive weapons in the densely populated neighbourhoods of Mosul. The civilian population has borne the brunt of the battle to recapture Mosul, with all sides displaying a chilling indifference to the devastating suffering caused to the city’s civilians.”


At site of deaths in Mosul, our reporters find cost of U.S.-ISIS battle

By Tim Arango, New York Times, March 27, 2017   (and see photos and charts at original weblink)

MOSUL, Iraq — Dozens of Iraqi civilians, some of them still alive and calling out for help, were buried for days under the rubble of their homes in western Mosul after American-led airstrikes flattened almost an entire city block. At the site on Sunday [March 26], more than a week after the bombing runs, reporters for The New York Times saw weary survivors trying to find bodies in the wreckage. Iraqi officials said the final death toll could reach 200 or more, potentially making it one of the worst civilian tolls ever in an American military strike in Iraq.

The fighting against the Islamic State here has grown more urgent, with Iraqi officers saying the American-led coalition has been quicker to strike urban targets from the air with less time to weigh the risks for civilians. They say the change reflects a renewed push by the American military under the Trump administration to speed up the battle for Mosul.

American military officials insist there have been no changes to its rules of engagement that lessen the risk for civilians. They say the reports of greater civilian casualties have come at a time of more intense operations both by Iraqi forces in Mosul and by forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria. Starting with the surge into Mosul in December, they say, American military advisers have been given more authority to call in some airstrikes that do not have to be approved through headquarters.

Right now, the battle for Mosul is in its most dangerous phase for civilians, with the fight reaching into the twisting alleys and densely populated areas of the old city. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are pinned down here in tight quarters with Islamic State fighters who do not care if they live or die.

At the same time, more American Special Operations troops, some dressed in black uniforms and driving black vehicles — the colors of their Iraqi counterparts — are closer to the front lines. That way, in theory, the targeting of Islamic State fighters should become more precise for the coalition. Another 200 American soldiers, from the 82nd Airborne Division, are heading to Iraq to support that battle over the next few days.

Many Iraqi commanders welcome the more aggressive American role, saying that coalition officers were too risk averse under the Obama administration. Iraqis also say fighting for the dense, urban spaces of western Mosul requires more airpower, even if that means more civilians will die.

When those decisions turn tragic, it looks like this: a panorama of destruction in the neighborhood of Mosul Jidideh so vast one resident compared the destruction to that of Hiroshima, Japan, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb in World War II. There was a charred arm, wrapped in a piece of red fabric, poking from the rubble; rescue workers in red jump suits who wore face masks to avoid the stench, some with rifles slung over their shoulders, searched the wreckage for bodies. Mosul, Iraq

One of the survivors, Omar Adnan, stood near his destroyed home on Sunday and held up a white sheet of paper with 27 names of his extended family members, either dead or missing, written in blue ink. Nearby were two men. One of them, Ashraf Mohammed, said, “I lost all of my family except this guy, my brother.”

The civilian deaths have not been limited to the battle for Mosul, which is about 220 miles north of Baghdad. Across large areas of Syria and Iraq, more American ground troops are being committed to the fight, and more American airstrikes are being ordered. In Syria, the battle has intensified in large part around Raqqa, the Islamic State’s declared capital. The campaigns in both countries intend to deprive the Islamic State of its biggest cities, while keeping pressure on the group across its holdings.

Allegations of civilian casualties in both countries from American-led airstrikes have increased so much in recent months that, for the first time, the number of coalition strikes affecting civilians has surpassed those carried out by Russia in Syria, according to Airwars, a monitoring organization based in London that tracks international airstrikes and their effect on civilians. Rising Civilian Deaths in Iraq

At least 1,353 civilians have been killed by American-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq, according to estimates by Airwars, a nonprofit group that monitors and assesses reports of civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. The group said the increase in reported civilian deaths began under President Barack Obama and accelerated after President Trump took office in January.

American officials have confirmed that the coalition conducted airstrikes in Mosul Jidideh on March 17 and that they are investigating whether it was to blame for the dozens of deaths there. They insist that they are doing everything they can to protect civilian lives while pushing the fight in Mosul.

Jim Mattis, the Defense secretary, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday that military leaders “are keenly aware that every battlefield where an enemy hides behind women and children” could lead to civilian casualties. “We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce loss of life or injury among innocent people,” he said.

The east side of Mosul, a city of 1.8 million that is Iraq’s second largest, was mostly secured by Iraqi forces in January. Much of it remained intact, and everyday life resumed. But on the west, the fight has become more brutal, with sections that look like moonscapes.

Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi, an Iraqi special forces commander, said his men had called in the American airstrikes that caused the civilian deaths, adding of the victims, “We feel sad for them.” But he called the episode an unfortunate outcome in a nasty war. He said that Iraqi forces had lost thousands of men fighting the Islamic State, and that to lose so many civilians in a single attack “in return for liberating the entire city of Mosul — I think it is a normal thing.”

“This is a war, and mistakes can happen, and there can be losses,” he said. “But we are fighting the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world, with huge, unprecedented support from the international coalition.”

Gen. Ali Jamil, an intelligence officer with the Iraqi special forces, said he had been fighting the Islamic State for more than two years with the support of American air power. “I have not seen such a quick response with high coordination from the coalition as I am seeing now,” he said. Before, when Iraqis requested airstrikes, he said, “there used to be a delay, or no response sometimes, on the excuse of checking the location or looking for civilians.”

On Sunday, a bulldozer pushed debris so rescuers could reach bodies. When one body was found, a man nearby identified it as that of his nephew, and another man wrote the name down in a leather-bound notebook. The body was then zipped up in a blue plastic bag and placed inside a garage alongside others. Many of the dead had already been buried in the gardens of homes that were only partially destroyed.

Residents who were in the neighborhood during the fighting suggested that there had been every reason to believe the area was filled with civilians at the time of the airstrikes — especially because the Iraqi government and its American allies had dropped leaflets asking civilians to remain in their homes rather than risk fleeing into the middle of the battle.

But the battle has come to them now.

As the fight for this west Mosul neighborhood raged 10 days ago, Islamic State fighters were dashing between homes across courtyards and passing through holes punched in concrete walls that allowed them to move their positions without showing themselves on the streets. Advancing Iraqi soldiers, who called in the airstrikes, were in earshot of civilians.

“They were very close,” said Mubishar Thanoon, a resident in his late 30s, standing on Sunday at the bedside of his brother, who was wounded in the attack, at a hospital in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region. “I was hearing their voices. They knew exactly that we were there.”

Another man, Ziad Suleyman, 27, said he could see an Iraqi special forces sniper on a nearby building, who was wearing a baseball cap and ear muffs and communicated with him using hand signals. “He was waving to me,” said Mr. Suleyman, also at the Erbil hospital, where he was visiting a wounded relative. “I was seeing him, he was seeing us.”

Residents and Iraqi officers said that Islamic State fighters, some speaking Russian, according to residents, had taken sniper positions on the rooftops of homes, pinning down some advancing Iraqi forces. Hundreds of residents, trying to escape indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire and fearful of airstrikes, took refuge in basements. It was there that they died, from airstrikes targeting the snipers that caused entire buildings to collapse, survivors recounted.

“Not all of the houses had Daesh on the roof,” said Ali Abdulghani, a resident of the neighborhood, using another name for Islamic State fighters. “Why, just because of one Daesh, kill everyone?”

American military officials have said that their investigation so far has found that one building collapsed days after the strikes in the neighborhood, raising the possibility that the Islamic State blew up the building after the bombing runs, killing many civilians.

In interviews, survivors and local residents dismissed that, saying airstrikes brought the buildings down. Survivors and Iraqi officers said that fighting raged in the neighborhood for days after the strikes, delaying the arrival of rescuers.

A few among the lucky are now lying, injured but alive, in hospital beds in Erbil, about 50 miles east of Mosul. Mr. Thanoon’s brother, Ali, was one of them. He survived days under the wreckage, emerging with a broken arm and many cuts and bruises. He recalled lying under the rubble never thinking he would die there, and speaking to another man nearby, who did not survive. “It was a conversation between two dying men,” he said.

He said he had hid in a basement not because Islamic State fighters forced him to, but because of the “terror and fear” of artillery and airstrikes. “For me and my family, we thought this was the safest place,” he said. When asked what happened to his family, Ali’s brother quickly changed the subject.

A few moments later, in the hallway outside the room, Mr. Thanoon confided that he had not yet told his brother, who he said was delirious from his ordeal and from painkillers, that his family — his two wives, four daughters, two sons and two grandchildren — had all been killed.


U.S. investigating Mosul strikes said to have killed up to 200 civilians

By Tim Arango and Helene Cooper, New York Times,  Friday, March 24, 2017  (with photos at original weblink)

‘There has been a noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since President Trump took office.’

BAGHDAD — The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians — perhaps as many as 200, residents said — had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State.

If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. And the reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents [bombings] in Syria, [a mosque in Al-Jinah on March 16, and dwellings in Raqqa province on March 21] where the coalition is also battling the Islamic State from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.

Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively.

American military officials insisted on Friday that the rules of engagement had not changed. They acknowledged, however, that American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq had been heavier in an effort to press the Islamic State on multiple fronts.

Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for the United States Central Command, said that the military was seeking to determine whether the explosion in Mosul might have been prompted by an American or coalition airstrike, or was a bomb or booby trap placed by the Islamic State. “It’s a complicated question, and we’ve literally had people working nonstop throughout the night to understand it,” Colonel Thomas said in an interview. He said the explosion and the reasons behind it had “gotten attention at the highest level.”

As to who was responsible, he said, “at the moment, the answer is: We don’t know.”

Iraqi officers, though, say they know exactly what happened: Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi, a commander of the Iraqi special forces, said that the civilian deaths were a result of a coalition airstrike that his men had called in, to take out snipers on the roofs of three houses in a neighborhood called Mosul Jidideh. General Saadi said the special forces were unaware that the houses’ basements were filled with civilians. “After the bombing we were surprised by the civilian victims,” the general said, “and I think it was a trap by ISIS to stop the bombing operations and turn public opinion against us.”

General Saadi said he had demanded that the coalition pause its air campaign to assess what happened and to take stricter measures to prevent more civilian victims. Another Iraqi special forces officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that there had been a noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since President Trump took office.

Before, Iraqi officers were highly critical of the Obama administration’s rules, saying that many requests for airstrikes were denied because of the risk that civilians would be hurt. Now, the officer said, it has become much easier to call in airstrikes. Some American military officials had also chafed at what they viewed as long and onerous White House procedures for approving strikes under the Obama administration. Mr. Trump has indicated that he is more inclined to delegate authority for launching strikes to the Pentagon and commanders in the field.

This is the second time this week that the military has opened an investigation into civilian deaths reported to have been caused by American airstrikes. On Tuesday, Central Command said it was investigating an American airstrike in Syria on March 16 that officials said killed dozens of Qaeda operatives at a meeting place that activists and local residents maintain was part of a religious complex.

While Defense Department officials acknowledged that the building was near a mosque, they called it an “Al Qaeda meeting site” in Jina, in Aleppo Province. Pentagon officials said that intelligence had indicated that Al Qaeda used the partly constructed community meeting hall as a gathering place and as a place to educate and indoctrinate fighters.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 49 people had been killed in what the group described as a massacre of civilians who were undergoing religious instruction in an assembly hall and dining area for worshipers. The group has produced photos taken at the site after the strike that show a black sign outside a still-standing adjoining structure that identified it as part of the Omar ibn al-Khatab mosque.

Chris Woods, director of Airwars, a nonprofit group that monitors civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, said that in March alone the number of reported civilian fatalities has shot up to 1,058, from 465 in December, the last full month of the Obama administration. “We don’t know whether that’s a reflection of the increased tempo of the campaign or whether it reflects changes in the rules of engagement,” he said. But, he added, the recent spike in numbers “does suggest something has shifted.”

American military officials said that what has shifted is that the Iraqi military, backed by the American-led coalition, is in the middle of its biggest fight so far — the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. In particular, the campaign for West Mosul has involved block-by-block fighting in an urban environment.

“There’s been no loosening of the rules of engagement,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. “There are three major offensives going on right now, at the same time,” he said, citing the battle for West Mosul; the encirclement of Raqqa, Syria, the Islamic State’s de facto capital; and the fight for the Tabqa Dam in Syria.

Captain Davis said that the investigation was looking into whether Islamic State fighters were responsible for the explosion in Mosul, or if an airstrike set something off.  “There are other people on the battlefield, too,” he said. “It’s close quarters.”

American officials said that even the timing of the strike was still in question. Col. Joseph E. Scrocca, a spokesman for the American-led command in Baghdad, said in a statement Friday that the strike under investigation happened between Friday, March 17 and Thursday [March 23].

The civilian death toll in Mosul was already widely described as heavy on account of Islamic State snipers and bombs, and intensified urban fighting in which artillery has been used. But there have been numerous reports from witnesses, including rescue workers and residents fleeing the fighting, about bodies being buried under rubble after heavy air bombardment.

Many of the reports centered on the Mosul Jidideh neighborhood, where residents said airstrikes hit a number of houses in recent days, killing dozens, including many children.

Capt. Ahmed Nuri, a soldier with Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces, who work closely with the American military and call in airstrikes, said on Thursday that his men, facing heavy sniper fire, helped collect five bodies from the rubble of a destroyed home. He said four of them were brothers — named Ali, Omar, Khalid and Saad — whose bodies were delivered to their grieving mother. The mother, Captain Nuri said, identified the fifth dead body as that of an Islamic State sniper who had been firing at advancing Iraqi forces from the roof of their house.

Local officials have reacted with outrage at the latest civilian deaths, warning that they will make it more difficult to fully take the city, and will alienate civilians still in Mosul, whom the Iraqi government is counting on for assistance. “The repeated mistakes will make the mission to liberate Mosul from Daesh harder, and will push civilians still living under Daesh to be uncooperative with the security forces,” said Abdulsattar Alhabu, the mayor of Mosul, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

Mr. Alhabu estimated that at least 200 civilians had been killed in airstrikes in recent days in Mosul.

Correction: March 28, 2017

Because of an editing error, an article on Saturday 25 about an American investigation of airstrikes in Mosul, Iraq, misidentified the monitoring group led by Chris Woods, who said that reported civilian fatalities from coalition airstrikes had increased. He is the director of Airwars, which tracks airstrike casualties in both Syria and Iraq, not the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks only those in Syria.


Read also:
Trump’s war on terror has quickly become as barbaric and savage as he promised, by Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, March 26, 2017

As U.S. airstrikes rise, so do allegations of civilian deaths, by Paul McLeary, Foreign Policy Magazine, March 27, 2017

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