US-led coalition says Mosul air strikes ‘a terrible tragedy’
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The top commander of US forces in the Middle East Sunday called the recent civilian deaths in Iraq's Mosul -- where Iraqi and allied forces are battling the Islamic State (IS) group -- 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."
The US-led coalition said Saturday that it had carried out a strike in the western city of Mosul on March 17 in which civilians were reportedly killed. However, some Iraqi officials have said that there was more than one day of air strikes.
An Iraqi military spokesman said in Baghdad, that following reports of the recent coalition air strikes in the al-Jadida neighbourhood in west Mosul, that Baghdad is undertaking its own investigation.
The number of victims – currently ranging from dozens to hundreds -- has yet to be independently confirmed.
But Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, accused the IS group of gathering civilians together and then blowing up nearby vehicles rigged with explosives to make it look like "Iraqi forces... are targeting innocent civilians," in an interview with AFP.
Air strikes critical… but to high a price?
The US has been bombing the IS group in Iraq since August 2014, and international strikes against the jihadists have played a major role in helping the country's forces push them back.
The coalition has also carried out strikes against the IS group in Syria.
Iraqi aircraft have also been bombing the jihadists, but have not released figures on estimated civilian casualties from the air strikes they have carried out.
The IS group overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since regained much of the territory.
They launched the high-profile operation to take back Mosul in October, recapturing the
city's east before setting their sights on the smaller but more densely populated west.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)