Iraqis press to­ward Mo­sul

Coali­tion queried on mosque at­tack

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Qas­sim Ab­dul-Zahra and Joseph Krauss

BARTELLA, Iraq — U.S.backed Iraqi forces fought their way in­side two vil­lages Mon­day as they crept closer to Mo­sul a week into an of­fen­sive to re­take the Is­lamic State-held city, but they also faced ques­tions over a sus­pected airstrike on a mosque that killed 13 peo­ple.

Iraqi spe­cial forces shelled mil­i­tant po­si­tions be­fore dawn near Bartella, a his­tor­i­cally Chris­tian town east of Mo­sul that they had re­taken last week. With pa­tri­otic mu­sic blar­ing from loud­speak­ers on their Humvees, they then pushed into the vil­lage of Tob Zawa, about 51⁄ miles from Mo­sul, amid heavy clashes.

Un­til now, most of the fight­ing has been in largely un­in­hab­ited towns and vil­lages, but the spe­cial forces found more than 70 civil­ians shel­ter­ing in Tob Zawa. They will en­counter many more civil­ians as they get closer to Mo­sul, still home to more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple.

The Iraqi Fed­eral Po­lice, a mil­i­tary- style force, pushed into a sec­ond vil­lage in the Shura dis­trict south of Mo­sul, where they fired a large anti-air­craft gun and rocket-pro­pelled grenades. They later ap­peared to have se­cured the vil­lage, a clus­ter of squat homes on a desert plain, and handed out wa­ter and other aid to civil­ians.

The U.S.-led coali­tion said it car­ried out six airstrikes Sun­day near Mo­sul, An Iraqi mil­i­tary con­voy ad­vances Mon­day to­ward the town of Tob Zawa, less than 6 miles from Mo­sul. de­stroy­ing 19 fight­ing po­si­tions and 17 ve­hi­cles, as well as rocket and mor­tar launch­ers, ar­tillery and tun­nels

Hu­man Rights Watch called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into last week’s pur­ported airstrike in north­ern Iraq that hit the women’s sec­tion of a Shi­ite mosque in the town of Daquq.

The strike hap­pened amid a large Is­lamic State as­sault on Kirkuk that ap­peared aimed at di­vert­ing at­ten­tion from Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city.

The Is­lamic State at­tack on Kirkuk, 100 miles southeast of Mo­sul, lasted for two days and killed at least 80 peo­ple, mainly mem­bers of the Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces that took con­trol of the city in 2014 as Iraqi forces crum­bled amid an Is­lamic State ad­vance.

Hu­man Rights Watch said Daquq’s res­i­dents be­lieve Fri­day’s at­tack was an airstrike be­cause of the ex­tent of the de­struc­tion and be­cause planes could be heard over­head. The New York-based group said at least 13 peo­ple were re­ported killed.

The coali­tion and the Iraqi mil­i­tary, which are wag­ing the of­fen­sive, are the only par­ties known to be flying mil­i­tary air­craft.

Col. John Dor­rian, a U.S. mil­i­tary spokesman, said the coali­tion had “defini­tively de­ter­mined” it did not con­duct the airstrike that killed civil­ians in Daquq and had shared its find­ings with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, which is do­ing its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The Coali­tion uses pre­ci­sion mu­ni­tions and an ex­haus­tive process to re­duce the pos­si­bil­ity of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and col­lat­eral dam­age be­cause the preser­va­tion of civil­ian life is (of ) para­mount im­por­tance to us,” Dor­rian said.

Iraqi Brig. Gen. Yahya Ra­sool, spokesman for the Joint Mil­i­tary Com­mand, con­firmed the Iraqi gov­ern­ment was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the at­tack. He de­clined to say whether Iraqi or coali­tion planes were in the area at the time.

KHALID MO­HAMMED/AP

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