Mosul civilian deaths a 'terrible tragedy' - US military chief

2017-03-27 10:40
An Iraqi mother, carrying her child, walks away from Mosul. (Aris Mennisins, AFP)

An Iraqi mother, carrying her child, walks away from Mosul. (Aris Mennisins, AFP)

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Washington - The top commander for US military forces in the Middle East on Sunday called recent civilian deaths in the Iraqi city of Mosul a "terrible tragedy", but stopped short of taking responsibility.

"We are investigating the incident to determine exactly what happened and will continue to take extraordinary measures to avoid harming civilians," General Joseph Votel, who heads US Central Command, said in a statement.

"We will continue to prioritise the protection of the people of Iraq in the conduct of all operations."

Iraqi forces, supported by air strikes from the international coalition fighting the so-called Islamic State, are engaged in a bitter struggle to dislodge the jihadists from Iraq's second-largest city.

Amid reports that recent coalition air strikes in the west Mosul neighbourhood of al-Jadida killed large numbers of civilians, Iraq is conducting its own investigation, a military spokesperson said in Baghdad.

The number of victims - said to range from dozens to hundreds - has yet to be independently confirmed.

But Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, the spokesperson for the Joint Operations Command, in remarks to AFP, accused ISIS of gathering civilians and then blowing up explosives-rigged vehicles nearby to cast the blame on Iraqi forces.

The US-led coalition said on Saturday that it had carried out a strike in west Mosul on March 17 at which civilians were reportedly killed.

But some Iraqi officials have referred to more than one day of strikes.

More than 200 000 civilians have fled west Mosul in the past month, according to Iraqi authorities.

But about 600 000 remain in ISIS-held sectors, which include two thirds of the city's Old Town, a warren of narrow streets, according to the United Nations.

The Pentagon under President Donald Trump has been given greater freedom to run its wars the way it wants - and not constantly seek White House approval on important decisions.

The military insists it has not lessened its standards for protecting civilians in the war zone.

But critics charge that as oversight has eased, civilian death rates have risen.

Read more on:    us  |  iraq

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