Witnesses Reject US Account of Deadly Mosul Bombing

Hawra Alaa Hassan, 4 years old, who was badly  burnt in a US airstrike in Mosul, is seen in  a hospital in Irbil, Iraq, on April 8. (File Photo)Hawra Alaa Hassan, 4 years old, who was badly  burnt in a US airstrike in Mosul, is seen in  a hospital in Irbil, Iraq, on April 8. (File Photo)

After an American airstrike killed more than 100 Iraqi civilians in a house in the western part of Mosul in March, US officials suggested the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group was to blame for the horrific toll, saying militants may have crammed the building with people, booby-trapped it with explosives, then lured in an airstrike by firing from the roof.

None of that happened, survivors and witnesses told AP, recounting the deadliest single incident in the months-long battle for the Iraqi city.

“Armed men in the house I was in? Never,” said Ali Zanoun, one of only two people in the building to survive the March 17 strike. He spent five days buried under the rubble of the building, drinking from a bottle of nose drops, with the bodies of more than 20 members of his family in the wreckage around him.

Instead, Zanoun and others interviewed by AP described a horrifying battlefield where airstrikes and artillery pounded neighborhoods relentlessly trying to root out IS militants, leveling hundreds of buildings, many with civilians inside, despite the constant flight of surveillance drones overhead.

Displaced families scurried from house to house, most driven out of their homes by IS militants, who herded residents at gunpoint out of neighborhoods about to fall to Iraqi forces and pushed them into IS-held areas.

The increased use of bombardment has made the fight for Mosul’s western sector, which began in mid-February, dramatically more destructive than fighting for its eastern half.

More than 1,590 residential buildings have been destroyed in western Mosul, based on analysis of satellite imagery and information from local researchers, the UN said last week.

Airstrikes killed 1,254 people in western Mosul in March and April alone, according to Iraq Body Count, an independent group documenting casualties in the war, cross-checking media reports with information from hospitals, officials and other sources.

In comparison, an estimated 1,600 civilians were killed or wounded from all causes during the 100-day campaign to recapture Mosul’s less densely-populated eastern half, which ended in mid-January.

Official figures from the Pentagon, which is slower in confirming deaths, are far lower: It said over the weekend that it has confirmed coalition airstrikes killed at least 352 civilians in Iraq and Syria combined since the campaign against IS started in 2014.

Human rights groups have pointed to looser rules introduced by the US military in December, which allow commanders on the ground to call in airstrikes, eliminating a layer of vetting of the targets by officers in Baghdad intended to limit civilian deaths.

The US military says the rule change has not played a role in greater civilian casualties and that the forces adhere to the same standards for carrying out a strike.


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