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Mar 25, 10:29 AM EDT

Senior statesmen in Iraq decry Mosul airstrike



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BAGHDAD (AP) -- Senior Sunni Muslim politicians expressed on Saturday concern over reports of airstrikes that have allegedly killed more than 100 civilians in western Mosul where U.S.-backed government troops are fighting the Islamic State group.

It was unclear who carried out the airstrikes, but on Friday the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria said it was investigating the allegations. Residents reported two airstrikes hitting a residential area on March 13 and 17. The Iraqi Defense Ministry has provided no immediate comment.

In tweets published on his official account, parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri said "we realize the huge responsibility the liberating forces shoulder" and call on them to "spare no effort to save the civilians."

In a statement issued on his website, Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi, himself from Mosul, described the incident as a "humanitarian catastrophe," blaming the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and excessive use of force by militarized Federal Police forces. Al-Nujaifi put the number of civilians killed at "hundreds."

He called for an emergency parliament session and an immediate investigation into the incident.

Residents of the neighborhood known as Mosul Jidideh told The Associated Press on Friday that scores of residents were believed to have been killed by two airstrikes that hit a cluster of homes in the area. Resident Ahmed Ahmed said there were over a hundred people within the cluster taking refuge from the missiles.

AP reporters saw on Friday at least 50 bodies being recovered from the wreckage of the buildings.

Faced with their toughest fight yet against IS, Iraqi and coalition forces have increasingly turned to airstrikes and artillery to clear and hold territory in western Mosul's densely-populated western neighborhoods. Civilians, humanitarian and monitoring officials are warning of increased civilian casualties in western Mosul due to the increased reliance on airstrikes and artillery.

Backed by U.S.-led international coalition, Iraqi forces launched an operation in February to drive IS from the western half of Iraq's second-largest city, after declaring eastern Mosul "fully liberated" the previous month. The city is divided by the Tigris River into a western and eastern half and the initial operation to liberate Mosul of the extremists began last October.

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