'Mistaken' US strikes kill eight Iraqi security personnel

'Mistaken' US strikes kill eight Iraqi security personnel
Eight Iraqis have been killed and 20 injured when a convoy of police and Popular Mobilisation Forces fighters were mistaken for IS militants and attacked by US airstrikes
3 min read
27 January, 2018
A police convoy was allegedly mistaken for IS militants [Getty]

Eight Iraqis have been killed, and 20 others injured, in what is thought to be a "friendly fire" incident, when US airstrikes hit a pro-government security convoy, a local official has said.

Most of the victims of the deadly strike are believed to be security personnel from police, intelligence and pro-Baghdad militias, who were mistaken for Islamic State group militants.

"Eight people - a senior intelligence official, five policemen and a woman - were killed by a US strike on the centre of al-Baghdadi," a town in western Iraq, the official said, asking not to be identified.

"It seems the strike was a mistake," the official said of the incident in the Euphrates Valley town, which is located close to the Ain al-Asad airbase 250 kilometres (160 miles) west of the capital.

According to the official, the victims were travelling in a convoy which had been deployed to support an operation against suspected Islamic State group militants in the area.

The strike destroyed most of the vehicles in the convoy as well as wounding at least 20 people, including the town's police chief, who was in a serious condition, the provincial official said.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command (JOC), the military wing which coordinates the campaign against the remaining IS presence in the country, said it had ordered a special forces raid in the town after receiving intelligence of a "meeting to be attended by terrorist commander Karim al-Samarmad". 

It said it had requested "air support from the international coalition". 

"Once the terrorist was arrested and while troops were carrying out searches, a grenade was thrown from an adjacent building."

As the special forces troops returned to base, they encountered a convoy of police and paramilitaries of the Hashd al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilisation Forces] that had been sent to support them.

The convoy - made up of pick-up trucks - caused the returning forces to mistake the police for jihadists and thus commanded a coalition air strike, according to the JOC.

"An inquiry has been opened," the JOC added.

Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon outlined that the US were not at fault, as the strike had been carried out at the request of Iraqi forces, who would take the lead in investigating any failings.

"Anything we do in Iraq is in support of the Iraqi security forces. We were asked for support and we provided it," Dillon told AFP.

"Iraqi forces have announced an investigation, they are on the lead for the investigation."

"For any allegation, especially of civilian losses, we conduct an investigation."

Leaders of Iraq's pro-Iran Shia militias - who form the backbone of the Hashed auxiliary force - remain critical of the mistaken attack and are reportedly unswayed by Dillon's explanation.

Iraq's Hashd al-Shaabi played a major role in the campaign against IS independently of the coalition, but have been criticised for huge human rights abuses, including summary executions and driving Sunni civilians from their homes.