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U.S. Acknowledges Mosul Airstrikes That Residents Say Killed More Than 100 Civilians


News from Iraq where residents say an American airstrike killed more than 100 civilians in western Mosul. If confirmed, it will have been the deadliest attack by the U.S. since it began fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

We called The Washington Post's Baghdad bureau chief Loveday Morris to hear more about this. She's been reporting on the Middle East for a number of years now, and we reached her in Erbil today which is in northern Iraq via Skype. Loveday Morris, thank you so much for speaking with us.

LOVEDAY MORRIS: Hi, no problem.

MARTIN: So what happened in Mosul as far as you know?

MORRIS: There's a neighborhood of Mosul called Mosul al-jida (ph). Iraqi forces were advancing on that neighborhood about a week ago. There was heavy bombardment. We had heard a lot of reports that there were a lot of airstrikes and artillery strikes and a lot of families stuck under the rubble there. But it's only been more recently since rescue teams have been able to actually get to the area that the sort of full scale of the destruction has been evident.

We went down there the other day, and there's one particular building that residents say 137 people were inside. So what they say is Islamic State militants were on the rooftops in the area, there were a lot of families sheltering in this single house because it had a basement and that there was a coalition strike they allege on that house that killed almost everyone inside.

MARTIN: Now, the U.S. military says it's conducting an investigation. Are they saying anything else?

MORRIS: They have said that their initial investigation does indicate that they did carry out a strike on the area where there are accusations of mass civilian casualties, said they did strike an ISIS target in that area.

MARTIN: What about the Iraqis? Are they saying anything?

MORRIS: The Iraqis have been saying a lot of different things. The Iraqi military put out a statement today which basically denied that it was an airstrike. So that actually kind of contradicts what the coalition is saying admitting that they did hit ISIS fighters at the location of these accusations. But rescue workers at the scene - civil defense workers - say that the damage is consistent with an airstrike.

MARTIN: So the U.S. officials are acknowledging that an airstrike was launched in this area. Does this signal any shift in strategy? Does this point to anything?

MORRIS: I mean, talking to U.S. military officials they say - and Iraqis - they said there's been no change in their rules of engagement, you know, when it comes to the battle. But, I mean, it definitely seems that there has been a spike in recent months of accusations of civilian casualties. We've seen a real rise both in Iraq and Syria.

Some air wars do tie that to the new administration. It's difficult to tell really with Mosul. There are a lot of factors. We're getting into very densely populated neighborhoods of Mosul, but they're also sort of accusations on this end that there's been quite a lot of recklessness both on the Iraqi side and the coalition side in recent weeks.

MARTIN: You know, I've asked you how the - what U.S. military authorities are saying, and I've asked you what the Iraqi authorities are saying. And I wondered is there any way to assess what Iraqi civilians feel about all this? Is there any local reporting on this?

MORRIS: Well, we were actually in the area, and we talked to civilians about how they felt and who they blamed. And they laid the blame on the coalition, but also on ISIS for gathering them in these areas and also on the Iraqi forces calling in the airstrikes and not being as cautious as they should be as they're advancing.

MARTIN: That's Loveday Morris. She's the Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post. She joined us via Skype. Loveday Morris, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MORRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered,where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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