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Iraq airstrike kills more than 100 civilians in Al-Qaim

Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri holds a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq on December 7 2016 [Murtadha Sudani /Anadolu Agency]
Image of Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri [Murtadha Sudani /Anadolu Agency]

Iraq’s parliament speaker called for a government inquiry today into Iraqi airstrikes on a western border town which has now killed more than 100 civilians and wounded tens of others in what has been described as a “massacre” by Iraqis.

Hospital sources and local parliamentarians said three airstrikes killed well over a hundred civilians, a large proportion of which were women and children, yesterday in a market district of the Daesh-held town of Al-Qaim, close to the border with Syria.

A spokesman for the US-led coalition supporting Iraqi troops in their fight against Daesh said it had not carried out airstrikes around Al-Qaim at that time. Daesh’s news agency, Amaq, blamed the Iraqi air force.

Saleem Al-Jibouri, the most senior Sunni politician in Shia-ruled Iraq, said the airstrikes had targeted “civilian shopping centres, causing the martyrdom and wounding of dozens,” and called for the perpetrators to be punished.

“The speaker holds the government responsible for such mistakes, asking them to open an immediate inquiry to find out the truth of the incident and to guarantee that civilians are not targeted again,” a statement released by his office said.

Al-Qaim, and the western province in which it is located, belongs overwhelmingly to the Sunni Arab community. The town lies on the Euphrates River, northwest of Baghdad, part of a remote region near the Syrian border which remains under the control of Daesh fighters.

Yesterday’s airstrikes took place as Iraqi forces wage a campaign, now nearing its third month, to crush Daesh militants who control the city of Mosul, about 280 kilometres northeast of Al-Qaim.

Amaq released video footage showing the aftermath of the attacks. Burning white minibuses could be seen on a wide main road lined by shops, as well as corpses, some charred and others bloodied, and the bodies of several children. Many buildings had been wrecked.

The fact that the Iraqi warplanes launched three airstrikes on a market greatly reduces the possibility that they did not know that the area was thronging with civilians and were not Daesh fighters.

Initially, Iraqi military sources claimed that the three airstrikes were “a mistake” only for the Iraqi government to retract that statement and claim that “unidentified aircraft” had carried out the airstrikes.

The fact that the US-led coalition has denied conducting any airstrikes in that area leaves only the Iraqi military as having an air force in the region.

Intentionally targeting and killing civilians is a war crime under international law.

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