Civil­ian deaths ris­ing in fight against Is­lamic State

Death toll could rise to 200 af­ter U.S.-led airstrikes on Mosul.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - Tim Arango ©2017 The New York Times

Scores of MOSUL, IRAQ — Iraqi civil­ians, some of them still alive and call­ing out for help, were buried for days un­der the rub­ble of their homes in west Mosul af­ter U.S.-led airstrikes flat­tened al­most an en­tire city block.

At the site on Sun­day, more than a week af­ter the bomb­ing runs, re­porters for The New York Times saw weary sur­vivors try­ing to find bod­ies in the wreck­age. Iraqi of­fi­cials said the fi­nal death toll could reach 200 killed, or even more. That would make it one of the worst in­stances of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties from an at­tack by U.S.-led forces dur­ing the long Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence in Iraq, start­ing with the Per­sian Gulf war in 1991.

The pace of fight­ing against the Is­lamic State here has grown more urgent, with Iraqi of­fi­cers say­ing the U.S.-led coali­tion has been quicker to strike at ur­ban tar­gets from the air with less time to weigh the risks for civil­ians. They say the change is a re­flec­tion of a re­newed push by the U.S. mil­i­tary un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to speed up the bat­tle for Mosul.

That push is com­ing at the mo­ment that the bat­tle for Mosul is near­ing its most dan­ger­ous phase for civil­ians, with the fight reach­ing into the twist­ing al­leys and densely pop­u­lated ar­eas of the old city.

That is where hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians are pinned down in tight quar­ters with Is­lamic State fight­ers who do not care if they live or die.

At the same time, more U.S. Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions troops, some dressed in black uni­forms and driv­ing black ve­hi­cles — the col­ors of their Iraqi coun­ter­parts — are closer to the front lines. That way, in the­ory, the tar­get­ing of Is­lamic State fight­ers should be­come more pre­cise for the coali­tion.

The Iraqi of­fi­cers, by and large, wel­come the change, say­ing that un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion coali­tion of­fi­cers were too risk averse. Iraqis also say fight­ing for the dense, ur­ban spa­ces of western Mosul re­quires more air power, even if that means more civil­ians will die.

When those de­ci­sions turn tragic, it looks like this: a panorama of de­struc­tion in the neigh­bor­hood of Mosul Ji­dideh.

One of the sur­vivors, Omar Ad­nan, stood near his de­stroyed home on Sun­day and held up a white sheet of pa­per with 27 names of his ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers, ei­ther dead or miss­ing, writ­ten in blue ink.

The civil­ian deaths have not been limited to the bat­tle for Mosul, which is about 220 miles north of Bagh­dad. Across large swathes of Syria and Iraq, more U.S. ground troops, and more U.S. airstrikes, are be­ing com­mit­ted to the fight. In Syria, the bat­tle has in­ten­si­fied in large part around Raqqa, the Is­lamic State’s de­clared cap­i­tal. The cam­paigns in both coun­tries in­tend to de­prive the Is­lamic State of its big­gest cities, while keep­ing pres­sure on the group across its hold­ings.

Al­le­ga­tions of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties in both coun­tries from U.S.-led airstrikes have in­creased so much in re­cent months that, for the first time, the num­ber of coali­tion strikes af­fect­ing civil­ians have sur­passed those car­ried out by Rus­sia in Syria, ac­cord­ing to Air­wars, a mon­i­tor­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The group said the in­crease in re­ported civil­ian deaths be­gan un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and ac­cel­er­ated once Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took of­fice in Jan­uary.

To­gether, the in­ten­si­fied U.S. in­volve­ment in the fight against the Is­lamic State has raised ques­tions about whether the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­laxed pro­ce­dures that are meant to keep civil­ian ca­su­al­ties at a min­i­mum.

The U.S.-led coali­tion, which has con­firmed it car­ried out a strike in Mosul Ji­dideh on March 17 and is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether it is to blame for the deaths there, has in­sisted that there have been no changes to its rules of en­gage­ment.


Rel­a­tives and friends dig graves Satur­day for two civil­ians killed in fight­ing be­tween Iraqi se­cu­rity forces and Is­lamic State mil­i­tants on the western side of Mosul, Iraq. U.S.led airstrikes flat­tened al­most an en­tire block in the city.

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