United Nations secretary-general starts official visit to Iraq

Surging civilian casualties which have plagued American and coalition commanders in Iraq in recent days could multiply, as the USA and its allies head into the most grueling phase of the campaign to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State.

On March 1, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend estimated ISIS had 2,000 fighters in Western Mosul.

A person familiar with a Wednesday phone call between President Donald Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi, said the Iraqi premier did raise the subject of the strike and civilian deaths. US officials have said that the munitions used by the USA -led coalition that day should not have taken the entire building down, suggesting that militants may have deliberately gathered civilians there and planted other explosives that were detonated by airstrikes. But tens of thousands more are still trapped inside homes, caught in the fighting, shelling and air strikes as Iraqi forces backed by a US-led coalition advance in the west.

"It has caused some adjustments to our procedures", Col Scrocca said, though he declined to say what specific changes had been made.

"We have not relaxed the rules of engagement", Votel said.

Gen. Joseph Votel, leader of U.S. Central Command, issued a statement saying "the death of innocent civilians in Mosul is a bad tragedy" and that the coalition "will continue to take extraordinary measures to avoid harming civilians".

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The close-quarter fighting between Iraqi forces and militants using human shields and booby-trapped houses to slow their advance is making it harder to avoid endangering more civilians, a top US military commander said Wednesday. "[The Islamic State] is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won't see them, and trying to bait the coalition to attack".

"We probably had a role in those casualties", the general said, adding that "the enemy had a hand in this". Iraqi civil defense officials are saying the attack targeted a building in Mosul's al-Jadida neighborhood where many people were crowded in a basement; the remains of more than 100 had been recovered by Sunday.

Numerous displaced have returned to their homes in areas retaken from Islamic State but some, like Saqr, have not yet been allowed to return by the authorities. But doing so at the cost of higher civilian casualties would be a serious mistake. Votel said the investigation will look at what Islamic State gunmen may have contributed to the civilian deaths.

Rescue teams work on the debris where more than 200 people were believed killed in Mosul last week.

Scrocca said that the coalition was making adjustments in the wake of this new threat but would not elaborate due to operational security reasons.

The US military says 284 members of the Iraqi security forces have been killed since the battle to retake western Mosul began, with more than 1600 wounded.

  • Adam Floyd