Iraqi air strike kills dozens of civilians, lawmakers say
London - Iraq’s parliament speaker said he was holding the Iraqi government responsible for an air strike that killed and wounded “dozens” of civilians in the Islamic State-held town of Qaim, near the Syrian border.
“The air strike hit unarmed civilians in shopping centres in Qaim and caused the killing and wounding of dozens of them,” Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said in a statement, calling the incident a “crime” and saying the perpetrators should be punished.
He demanded an immediate investigation into the attack.
The government said fighter jets targeted Islamic State (ISIS) militants in two houses in Qaim but denied civilians were present. Mohammed al-Karboli, a Sunni lawmaker, however, said the jets hit three markets in Qaim during rush hour, killing and wounding 80 people. He did not cite his sources for the information.
The ISIS-linked Aamaq news agency released a nearly 2-minute-long video, which the Iraqi government claimed was a fabrication, purporting to show the aftermath of the strike. The footage shows bearded men rushing towards a scene in which dozens of cars were on fire and buildings appeared damaged. Several bodies, some burned, were seen on the ground.
The Iraqi Defence Ministry’s media office said jets attacked two houses, where up to 65 ISIS fighters had gathered, based on “accurate intelligence from our sources in the region”.
Qaim, 320km west of Baghdad, is among several small towns in western Anbar province still ruled by ISIS.
Iraqi forces have pushed ISIS out of most of Anbar over the past year. Since starting an offensive on October 17th to oust ISIS from Mosul, Iraqi forces say they have recaptured almost half of eastern Mosul and are edging towards the Tigris river that divides it.
Iraqi troops, who briefly seized a Mosul hospital believed to be used as an ISIS base, were forced to withdraw from the site but established a base for tanks nearby after days of fierce back-and-forth fighting, residents said.
Coalition warplanes, at Iraq’s request, struck a building inside the hospital complex from which the militants were firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the coalition said.
Iraqi military spokesmen have said little about fighting around the hospital, stressing instead gains they said were being made in other parts of eastern Mosul, including the Ilam neighbourhood a few districts north-east.
In another part of Mosul recaptured by government troops, Iraqi police fired shots in the air and threatened to whip crowds with a hose as residents tried to overrun the first distribution of aid by UN agencies inside the city.
The United Nations scrambled to find enough land to shelter those displaced by the fighting, Bruno Geddo, the head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Iraq, told the Associated Press. About 82,000 people have fled the city since the offensive began, Geddo said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) was harming the recovery efforts of the country’s Yazidi minority, which was targeted by ISIS.
HRW said restrictions imposed by the KRG on the Yazidis were “disproportionate to any possible security considerations [and] are causing unnecessary harm to people’s access to food, water, livelihoods and other fundamental rights”.
“The KRG should be working to facilitate access to Sinjar for the hundreds of Yazidi civilians wishing to return to their homes, not adding more barriers to their recovery,” HRW said.
In another development, Britain’s foreign intelligence chief said ISIS was plotting attacks against the United Kingdom.
“As I speak, the highly organised external attack planning structures within Daesh (ISIS), even as they face military threat, are plotting ways to project violence against the UK and our allies without ever having to leave Syria,” MI6 Chief Alex Younger said in London.
In a newly released video, ISIS called on its followers to carry out attacks in Bahrain for being part of the international anti-ISIS coalition.
ISIS propaganda has waned as the extremists lose territory in Iraq and Syria under the onslaught of a US-led campaign. Bahrain is part of the coalition.
A senior US military official said that at least 50,000 ISIS militants have been killed by the coalition since it began operations in Iraq and Syria in late 2014.