Nearly 300 died in Mosul air strike, Iraqi officials confirm

Nearly 300 died in Mosul air strike, Iraqi officials confirm

Top US general says there was a ‘fair chance’ the US-led coalition was responsible but, if so, strike was ‘unintentional’

TOPSHOT – An Iraqi man sits amid the rubble of destroyed houses in Mosul’s al-Jadida area on March 26, 2017, following air strikes in which civilians have been reportedly killed during an ongoing offensive against the Islamic State (IS) group. Iraq is investigating air strikes in west Mosul that reportedly killed large numbers of civilians in recent days, a military spokesman said./ AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

Arbil: Iraqi officials said on Wednesday that they had removed nearly 300 bodies from the site of an apparent air strike in west Mosul, the largest civilian death toll since the battle against Daesh began more than two years ago and among the deadliest incidents in decades of modern warfare.

More bodies were being removed on Wednesday as the US-led coalition investigated whether it was responsible, Iraqi officials blamed Daesh, and the injured continued to suffer.

The attack came after government officials urged residents at the start of the October 17 offensive to stay in their homes. Responsibility for the deaths has been disputed, as has the number killed.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top US general commanding the fight against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, has said there was “at least a fair chance” that the US-led coalition was responsible for the strike, but if so, it was “an unintentional accident of war, and we will transparently report it to you.”

The coalition has not released an estimated death toll. It is still investigating, with results expected by month’s end, said US. Army Colonel Joe Scrocca, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition.

The Pentagon has acknowledged 229 civilian deaths from coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria since the US campaign against Daesh began. Independent monitoring groups such as the London-based non-profit Airwars put the casualty figures much higher, at about 2,700 civilians killed in air strikes in both countries during that time.

Iraqi Civil Defence officials called to the scene of the apparent air strike on March 17, in the Jadidah neighbourhood, initially said more than 200 people had been killed. At least 50 bodies were visible in the area they were excavating a week after the attack.

As of Wednesday, they had removed 278 bodies, many of them children, and it was unclear how many more were buried beneath the rubble, said Civil Defence Lt. Col. Taha Ali.

Many of the injured are still reeling.

Suhaida Hussain was seven months pregnant with her first child, a boy, when the attack occurred.

Hussain, 19, and her husband were buried in the rubble. When relatives and neighbours rescued them, they were unable to walk, both having suffered potentially crippling spine injuries.

Hussain later said her first thought wasn’t about her back: It was about her pregnancy, which she thought was over.

“When my husband came to me, I was crying and saying ‘My son is gone,’ “ Hussain recalled from her hospital bed this week. “He said, ‘I don’t care. I just want to see you.’ “ As it turned out, the foetus was fine. But Hussain remains hospitalised, still unable to move her legs.

She and her husband are being treated at a hospital 50 miles east in Irbil, but doctors told them they will have to leave in a few days. They’re not sure where they will go, and hope help will arrive soon for the injured.

“I don’t want to go back,” said her husband, Khaled Aswa Jasim, 34, a vegetable vendor, from his bed next to hers in their cramped hospital room. “I lost my house, my car, even my back. Anywhere, just not Mosul.”