Iraqi army 'reduces Mosul firepower' over high civilian casualties

Iraqi army 'reduces Mosul firepower' over high civilian casualties
An "initial agreement" to suspend the use of artillery shelling and airstrikes in Mosul neighbourhoods 'except when necessary' has been reportedly reached
3 min read
27 March, 2017
The battle for west Mosul has seen a rise in civilian casualties [AFP]
An "initial agreement" to suspend the use of artillery and airstrikes in Mosul neighbourhoods has been reportedly reached as Iraq and the US-led coalition scramble to contain the fallout from allegations deadly strikes at al-Jadida neighbourhood and elsewhere in Mosul may have killed as many as 500 civilians.

According to high-level military sources in Baghdad, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command reached a "preliminary agreement with the US-led coalition forces on suspending the use of heavy weapons in residential neighbourhoods of western Mosul".

An Iraqi ministry of defence official told The New Arab these heavy weapons include artillery assets, rocket launchers and bombs delivered by air, with a view to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.

"Around 400,000 civilians are crammed in twelve districts under Islamic State (IS) control, and the continuation of the current strategy means more victims," he said.

"Heavy weapons will only be used when necessary, although suspending their use will increase losses in the ranks of our forces and postpone settling the battle," he added, saying the forces fighting IS will now focus on draining the extremist group while allowing civilians to leave.

However, Col. Malek Ahbabi from the Iraqi Army Operations Command told The New Arab the final decision regarding the use of heavy weapons rests with the prime minister. "Up until this afternoon (Sunday), heavy weapons continue to be used," he said.

This follows reports the Iraqi forces had suspended operations in Mosul pending a review of tactics used. However, battles continued on Sunday with no visible lull in the fighting, according to multiple media reports.

The reported Iraqi review of operations comes after hundreds of civilians were killed in the city, allegedly in suspected coalition strikes in the past two weeks, raising concerns the Iraqi government and its international allies are not doing enough to protect civilians and drawing accusations they may have even altered the rules of engagement to allow for more "collateral damage".

Sources close to the US-led coalition have strongly denied this, blaming the high number of casualty on IS' alleged use of human shields.

The US said on Saturday that it was investigating an airstrike on 17 March at "the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties".

For its part, the Iraqi army cast doubt on Sunday on reports that it was an airstrike by the US-led coalition that caused the deaths of dozens of civilians in west Mosul.

The Iraqi military, on its Facebook page, issued a detailed rebuttal of claims that an airstrike was behind the deaths

Iraqi military experts checked a house "reportedly targeted by an airstrike and they found out that the house was completely destroyed and there was no sign that it was destroyed by a strike".

"A huge detonated booby-trapped vehicle was found near the house. Some 61 dead bodies were pulled from under the rubble," the statement adds.

The military claims witnesses described how IS used houses, rigged with explosives and containing families, from which to fire at security forces.