More than 200 civilians are reported to have been killed in a single US-led coalition raid on Mosul, as the United Nations warned yesterday the worst was yet to come for those still trapped in the Iraqi city.
Some 230 bodies of mostly women and children were pulled from three adjoining houses in the Jadida neighbourhood of west Mosul overnight Wednesday and into yesterday morning, according to witnesses.
Isil had taken over the buildings to use as sniper positions and had been holding civilians there which it had rounded up to use as human shields.
A Mosul resident who has been documenting life under Isil, and now the battle for the city, under the name ‘MosulEye’ said one of the trapped residents called him yesterday pleading for help, saying they had been without food and water for four days.
“We asked them to rescue the people, but received no response,” said ‘MosulEye’, who passed the co-ordinates of the houses on to the Iraqi army.
He said Isil let off a car bomb in the area before the coalition airstrike hit.
“This is what Isil wants,” he said. “They want the ISF (Iraqi special forces) and coalition to target civilians, this is why they are using them.”
Centcom, US Central Command, said: “We are aware of reports on airstrikes in Mosul resulting in civilian casualties. The coalition conducted several strikes near Mosul and we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation.”
Iraqi forces are pushing into the densely populated Old City in west Mosul, where 400,000 people are trapped in increasingly desperate conditions.
Military officials said Isil militants are deeply entrenched inside civilian homes, making it difficult for coalition forces to distinguish friend from foe.
Civilians are streaming out at an increasing rate, now averaging 8,000-12,000 a day, Bruno Geddo, UNHCR representative in Iraq, said.
“The worst is yet to come, if I can put it this way. Because 400,000 people trapped in the Old City in that situation of panic and penury may inevitably lead to the cork popping somewhere, sometime, presenting us with a fresh outflow of large-scale proportions,” Mr Geddo said.
The UN has warned that civilians are at risk whether they choose to flee the city or remain in their homes.
Those who choose to stay face extreme risks of being hit by mortar fire and airstrikes; while families who choose to leave are equally at risk of being injured or killed by car bombs and snipers.
The latest deadly raid sparks further concerns that the US military’s new rules of engagement may be causing an increase in civilian casualties.
The Trump administration has already “sped up” the process of approving airstrikes, but an official review could see the Pentagon approving attacks without presidential consent and the threshold of “near certainty” that there be no civilian deaths lowered.
Airwars, a UK-based organisation which monitors international strikes on Isil, suggested as many as 400 civilian deaths could be attributed to coalition raids in March alone. “We are very concerned about the reports of Iraq government and coalition using heavy-handed tactics in west Mosul,” said Chris Wood, director of Airwars. “The US are not downplaying the number of casualties, but they don’t have the monitoring on the ground to assess properly the presence of civilians and the number of casualties.”