Belgium has opened an investigation into the suspected involvement of Belgian fighter jets in air strikes in Iraq’s west Mosul that killed dozens of civilians, as the US admitted carrying the airstrikes out but denied full responsibility.
Iraqi authorities believe more that hundreds of civilians were killed in strikes over several days in Mosul, and attention has focused on one particularly deadly attack on March 17, in which reports sat that more than 400 civilians were killed.
Iraqi sources said that airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition targeting Islamic State militants may have detonated a truck filled with explosives, destroying buildings in a heavily populated area in al-Jadida area in west Mosul.
Local lawmaker Faris al-Sanjari told Reuters the coalition air strike had targeted a truck bomb causing a huge explosion.
“You can’t kill dozens just to destroy a booby-trapped truck parked near houses,” he said.
Bassma Bassim, the head of the Mosul District Council, said on March 25. that “more than 500” civilians were killed by air raids over the past week alone.
“I have never met so many people with so many martyrs in their families,” Bassim said, adding that witnesses are questioning whether civilians are being targeted on purpose.
Belgium investigates Mosul attack
“We have opened a preliminary investigation to establish … whether all procedures were observed during two incidents,” prosecutors’ spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told AFP news agency.
“If rules of engagement were properly observed … it is possible that no crime was committed,” Van Der Sypt said.
Belgian MP Wouter De Vriendt told Flemish broadcaster VRT the case involved strikes carried out by Belgian F-16 fighter jets on March 17.
Belgium takes part in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) group, which has conducted tens of thousands of air strikes against the fighters in Iraq and Syria.
US admits airstrike, denies full responsibility
At first, the coalition did not give details on any specific air strike or comment on a Mosul Jadida district operation, and the excuses were always ready as they said investigation are bein conducted.
“We are aware of reports on airstrikes in Mosul resulting in civilian casualties. The Coalition conducted several strikes near Mosul and we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation,” the coalition said in a statement.
Mark Kimmitt, a former US assistant secretary for political and military affairs, said that while the deaths of civilians were unfortunate, such “incidents happen in combat”.
The US-led coalition admitted carrying out the deadly air raids.
“An initial review of strike data … indicates that the coalition struck (ISIL) fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties,” the US military’s Combined Joint Task Force said in a statement on Saturday.
However, the coalition said they are not the only part to be blamed as ISIS used the civilians as a decoy.
A spokesman for the U.S-led coalition fighting Islamic State told reporters on Thursday he was working to declassify a video showing militants hiding civilians in a building in west Mosul to “bait the coalition to attack.”
“What was see now is not the use of civilians as human shields … For the first time we caught this on video yesterday as armed ISIS fighters forced civilians into a building, killing one who resisted and then used that building as a fighting position against the (Counter Terrorism Service),” Colonel Joseph Scrocca said. He was using an acronym for Islamic State. Iraq
Scrocca said Islamic State tactics have led to adjustments in procedures, adding that about 1,000 Islamic State fighters remained in west Mosul, but did not give details on these changes. He added than an in-depth investigation into the strikes had been opened on March 17.
On Tuesday, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters by teleconference it was “a little disappointing” that questions during the briefing focused on U.S.-led air strikes.
“ISIS is slaughtering Iraqis and Syrians on a daily basis. ISIS is cutting off heads. ISIS is shooting people,” he said.