'Shocking spike' in deaths in Mosul as US airstrikes increase

Hundreds of civilians are believed to have died as Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition intensify their efforts against IS

'Shocking spike' in deaths in Mosul as US airstrikes increase

Civil protection rescue team work on the debris of a destroyed house to recover the body of people killed during fights between Iraq security forces and Islamic State on the western side of Mosul. Picture by: Felipe Dana/AP/Press Association Images

Amnesty International has warned that the high civilian death toll in Mosul suggests the coalition forces battling Islamic State have "failed to take adequate precautions" to prevent civilian deaths.

Iraqi forces have been battling to take control of the city in north Iraq, which is one of the last remaining IS strongholds.

Ground forces have been supported by airstrikes carried out by a US-led coalition. The coalition has also been targeting Islamic State militants in Syria.

The Trump administration in the US has pledged to intensify the battle against IS.

Concerns have been raised, however, that strict rules of engagement aimed at protecting civilians could be relaxed amid the increased targeting of IS-occupied areas.

Such concerns were amplified last week when reports emerged suggesting that more than 100 civilians were killed in an airstrike targeting Mosul on March 17th.

The US military has confirmed it was involved in the airstrike in west Mosul, and is formally investigating to determine "the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties".

Officials have denied the US military has changed its rules of engagement.

Over the weekend, the UN expressed 'profound concern' over the reports of the civilian deaths.

Lise Grande, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said: “International humanitarian law is clear. Parties to the conflict — all parties – are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians.

"This means that combatants cannot use people as human shields and cannot imperil lives through indiscriminate use of fire-power.”

The Pentagon also warned of 'inhuman tactics' employed by IS, including using civilians as shields.

A man stands outside houses damaged during fights between Iraq security forces and Islamic State on the western side of Mosul. Picture by: Felipe Dana/AP/Press Association Images

Amnesty International, meanwhile, says hundreds of people have been killed by airstrikes in war-torn Mosul.

The human rights charity also claims that people in the east of the city were 'repeatedly' told by Iraqi authorities to not flee their homes as the battle got underway.

The charity also says the spike in civilian deaths raises "serious questions about the lawfulness" of attacks.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty Ireland, said: “Evidence gathered on the ground in East Mosul points to an alarming pattern of US-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."

He added: "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."

Mr O'Gorman also condemned the 'shameful' tactics of IS, saying using civilians as a human shields is a violation of law that "amounts to a war crime".

One 23-year-old woman told the charity she lost 11 relatives - including her parents, grandparents and four young siblings - in one airstrike last December.

She said: "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."