New report shows mounting number of civilians killed in Iraq

New data shows air and ground strikes near the Iraqi city of Mosul have resulted in nine civilian deaths and injuries to three others in the ongoing battle against Islamic State, the U.S.-led military coalition announced Saturday.

The casualties are the latest sign of the challenges facing the Pentagon as it launches daily bombing raids against Sunni extremist fighters who often mix among civilians in densely populated cities.

The figures, released in a monthly report compiled by the U.S. military, bring the Pentagon's total official civilian death toll to 229 since the air war against Islamic State began nearly three years ago.

Independent monitors say far more people have died as a result of the airstrikes.

The issue of civilian deaths has attracted new international attention since the release of vivid images of a March 17 airstrike in west Mosul’s Jadidah neighborhood that is accused of killing 200 or more Iraqi citizens. That airstrike is under investigation by Iraqi and U.S. officials and is not included in the new report.

The U.S.-led military coalition launches airstrikes and ground-based artillery attacks each day in support of Iraqi and Syrian forces advancing against Islamic State strongholds.

The military said Saturday that it had received 41 new reports of possible civilian casualties from recent months. It has examined 17 claims; 12 were dismissed as "noncredible," while five were deemed valid. Military officials are still reviewing the remaining allegations.

Human rights and humanitarian aid groups estimate that hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded in the more than 19,300 airstrikes and ground artillery attacks launched by the U.S. and its allies since August 2014.

Airwars.org, a nonprofit group that relies on social media and witness accounts to track casualties, estimates that coalition airstrikes have killed 2,831 civilians.

“We’re certainly glad that the coalition is taking civilian casualties and their reduction seriously,” said Chris Woods, director of Airwars. “Our concern here is that even with the coalition looking at many more cases than they did a while back, they still can’t keep up with all the allegations coming in.”

The military did not release many details of its investigations of civilian casualties. It instead summarized the findings in a six-page news release that did not identify any of the victims. All of the incidents were reported to have occurred “near Mosul.”

According to the release, four civilians were unintentionally killed and two injured on Sept. 20, 2015, when an airstrike hit “what was evaluated at the time to be an ISIS headquarters building.” ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

In another incident, a civilian was unintentionally killed in a Jan. 30, 2017, strike against an Islamic State weapons manufacturing facility.

During a Feb. 6 strike against a group of fighters, the military assessed that three civilians were “unintentionally injured when they entered the target area after the munition was released.”

Two more civilians were “unintentionally killed when they entered the target area” on Feb. 12, and a bomb was released on a suicide bomb-making facility. A similar incident occurred four days later, the military said, at another bomb-making facility where two civilians were killed.

The military said all strikes complied with laws on armed conflict and “all feasible precautions” were taken to prevent civilian casualties.

Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @wjhenn

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