US military confirms air strikes that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians

Residents and officials have said that over 200 civilians may have died in the strike by the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State

US military confirms air strikes that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians

Residents of the Mosul Jidideh neighbourhood say scores of residents were killed by airstrikes that hit a cluster of homes in the area earlier this month. Image: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

The US military has confirmed it was involved in an airstrike in west Mosul last week which is claimed to have caused hundreds of civilian deaths.

Residents and officials have said that over 200 civilians may have died in the strikes by the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in the region.

US Central Command said in a statement that "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."

Mosul municipality chief, Abdul Sattar al-Habbo, who is supervising the rescue, said 240 bodies had been pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings. Previous estimates from local officials had said around 130 people had died.

Iraqi government forces paused their drive to recapture west Mosul on Saturday because of the high rate of civilian casualties, a security forces spokesman said.

The governor of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, Nawfal Hammadi, said coalition strikes in the Mosul al Jadida area had killed "more than 130 civilians."

While the head of the Nineveh provincial council, Bashar al-Kiki, told the AFP news agency: "There are dozens of bodies still under the rubble.

"Efforts to remove the bodies are ongoing."

An Iraqi brigadier general told AFP that at least 27 residential buildings had been badly damaged when the attack was called in to deal with a number of Islamic State snipers.

The United Nations has expressed its profound concern, calling for “all sides to protect civilians during the battle.”

"We are stunned by this terrible loss of life and wish to express our deepest condolences to the many families who have reportedly been impacted by this tragedy," Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said.

"Nothing in this conflict is more important than protecting civilians."

In its statement, US Central Command said it had a goal of "zero civilian casualties."

It added that "CJTF-OIR (Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve) 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."

It added however that the coalition would not stop supporting its Iraqi partners "because of ISIS's inhuman tactics terrorising civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighbourhoods."

Governor Hammadi also accused IS of putting Mosul residents in harm's way.

"The Daesh terrorist organisation is seeking to stop the advance of the Iraqi forces in Mosul at any cost, and it is gathering civilians... and using them as human shields," he said.