Survivors Describe US Terror Attack on Mosul's Civilians: Russia Condemns US
April 14, 2017
Jane Arraf / National Public Radio & Matt Rehbein and Julia Jones / CNN
The Pentagon claims it did not know that thousands of civilians were taking shelter in their homes and apartments in Mosul the day US planes unleashed a deadly rain of bombs and rockets. It is believed that nearly 300 Iraqi civilians were killed in the March 17 attack -- many of them were children. Some of the survivors describe the terror of the horrific attack and the human consequences. Meanwhile, Russia has called the Pentagon's excuses for the civilian casualties in Mosul "absurd."
Survivors Describe Aftermath Of US Airstrike On Mosul
Jane Arraf / National Public Radio
(April 12, 2017) – In a hospital in Irbil, Iraq, 4-year-old Hawra' is briefly distracted by a new pink hat and a big stuffed toy. But soon she goes back to calling for her mother -- her cries filling the hospital room.
"Your mother is in Mosul getting treatment," her grandmother, Aliya Ali, assures her in a singsong voice. "We'll go there," she tells the little girl, before turning to admit that the only thing she can do is lie.
Hawra's mother survived for three days half-buried in the rubble of a house after a US airstrike on March 17 in their neighborhood in Mosul Jadidah. She died there.
Hawra' was thrown through a window. She landed in the neighbors' yard, bleeding and badly burned with shards of glass in her eyes. Her plastic boot had melted into her leg. She still can't open her eyes and will need another operation to be able to see again.
Her father, Ala'a Hassan, was a few doors away. When the fighting let up, he carried Hawra' to safety. He says he tried to rescue his wife. But fighting between ISIS and security forces raged around them.
"I tried to go and help her but my mother was in shock and there was gunfire so I couldn't," he says. "More than once I tried to help her."
The grandmother says Hawra's skin was burned black "like charcoal." The only thing they had to feed her was flour mixed with water.
When Hassan did eventually manage to leave for a few minutes to try to rescue his wife, he went through the holes in the walls between houses that ISIS had forced Mosul residents to create so ISIS fighters could move around without being seen.
Hassan, 26, worked as a photographer before ISIS made him close his shop. He and his mother say there were only a few ISIS fighters in their neighborhood. He says all the families were both terrified of ISIS and deeply afraid of being hit by an airstrike.
"We have learned this about war," Hassan says. "In the cities you can't use airstrikes, you have to use helicopters. I called the Iraqi army many times to ask them to send helicopters, but the people I talked to said it wasn't their decision."
The US Defense Department acknowledges that it launched the airstrikes and says it will conclude an investigation by the end of April. Investigators are trying to determine whether there were secondary explosions from bombs laid by ISIS that caused houses to collapse. While Iraqi special forces requested the US strike, it is up to American commanders to approve the requests under regulations designed, in part, to avoid civilian casualties.
The death toll is believed to be more than 150 civilians -- one of the highest in a US airstrike in the war against ISIS. Iraqi commanders say they didn't know that dozens of civilians were packed into each house.
"We didn't know there were this number of people in the houses," Maj. Gen. Najem Abdullah al-Jabouri, head of the Ninevah Operations Command coordinating the battle, told NPR. "This is the last chance for ISIS -- it drives people into houses and puts snipers on the roof so we will hit them and many people will be killed. That puts pressure on politicians to stop the battle -- this is their end goal."
Hassan says five families had taken refuge in his uncle's house, which had a shelter.
"Three times we tried to leave and ISIS sent us back," he says. "They fired in the air and in the end they said if you try to leave we will hang you."
In some cases, the blasts wiped out almost entire families.
In another ward of a Kurdish government hospital in Irbil where the International Committee of the Red Cross treats the most badly wounded from Mosul, truck driver Ali Thanoun lies in a bed with his arms bandaged and his leg in traction.
His brother Mubashar asks a nurse for clean sheets and agrees to talk in the hallway, where his brother can't hear.
Ali doesn't know yet that his two wives and all of his seven children were killed. In the house where they were sheltering, 31 people were killed.
Mubashar says he and his family moved from house to house as ISIS fighters herded them deeper into ISIS-held areas. He was in another area when the airstrike hit, and it was two days before Iraqi security forces let him go to the site of the blast. He ran shouting for his brothers.
He finally heard Ali's voice under the rubble.
"He said: 'Are you coming to save me? Before there was ISIS and the army and I shouted and no one helped. You are going to abandon me like the others.' He told me: 'Either get me out or kill me,' " Mubashar recalls.
Ali had survived by drinking one or two drops of saline nasal solution he had in his pocket until it was gone. Another brother, Adel, was killed in the airstrike.
Mubashar says he plans to tell Ali "gradually," while he is still in the hospital, that his family is gone.
"I don't know if his heart can take all the sorrow that is coming," he says. "I worry he will hate me because I saved him to live the rest of his life alone without his family."
Russia Condemns US over 'Absurd' Response to Mosul Civilian Deaths
Matt Rehbein and Julia Jones / CNN
(April 3, 2017) -- Russia is stepping up its criticism of US military action in Iraq -- calling Pentagon comments about civilian casualties in Mosul "absurd."
Russia's Ministry of Defense issued a statement Sunday that derides US officials' comments about the US-led coalition's possible role in more than 100 civilian deaths in Mosul last month.
"Absurd statements of the Pentagon representatives justifying civil casualties caused by American bombing in Iraq give more information on the operation planning level and the alleged supremacy of the American "smart" bombs," the statement reads.
The Russian ministry's statement references coalition spokesperson Col. Joseph Scrocca's comments from last week, when he told reporters that ""ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won't see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack."
Scrocca said the coalition had observed the new ISIS tactic on video surveillance, but US officials have not released the footage. The Russian ministry statement questions why the US military is only now revealing ISIS' alleged new tactic -- and asks why the coalition proceeded with the strike despite knowing about it.
"First, what are the motives of the American Command putting the veil of confidentiality and keeping secret the crimes of terrorists from the international community? Second, why (did) the US-led coalition, having this information, make strikes with their 'smart' bombs on buildings with civilians dooming them to a terrible death?"
Expanded Mosul Investigation
Russia's ramped-up criticism follows reports of heavy civilian casualties in Mosul following a US airstrike in the city's al-Jadidah neighborhood on March 17.
Col. Mohammad Shumari, head of Iraqi civil forces working in the area, told CNN last week that 141 bodies had been removed from the location of that strike.
Last week Scrocca acknowledged "a coalition strike contributed in at least some way to the civilian casualties" in Mosul. The US has expanded its investigation into a formal review of all airstrikes in the area over a period of several days, the US military said Thursday.
The investigation was broadened after a US team visited the site of the March 17 airstrike and determined that there was evidence that the strike hit a house where civilians were located, a defense official told CNN.
229 civilian deaths in strikes since 2014
The official said they are looking at any other factors that might have played into the civilian deaths, including the fact that ISIS tries to deceive US targeting. The US believes it can develop some "indicators" of when civilians are present, but the official declined to specify details due to security concerns.
Russia's withering condemnation of US actions in Iraq reverses a trend in the two countries' military campaigns in the Middle East. The US frequently criticized Russia for its "indiscriminate" airstrikes in Syria after Moscow began its air assault against rebel groups in late 2015.
Sunday's condemnation of US military action in Iraq comes on the heels of more scathing criticism from Moscow. Last week Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson challenged the integrity of US foreign policy after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that NATO needed to discuss "Russia's aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere."
The rising tensions are seen as an indication that the prospect of a new era of US-Russian relations under President Trump is under threat. Two administration officials told CNN on Thursday that Trump's hopes of striking a grand bargain with Russia have faded.
According to one senior administration official, this isn't necessarily because Trump's view of Russian President Vladimir Putin has evolved. But Trump believes in the current atmosphere -- with so much media scrutiny and ongoing probes into Trump-Russian ties and election meddling -- that it won't be possible to "make a deal," as the President himself has framed it, the official said.
CNN's Tim Lister, Radina Gigova, Barbara Starr and Ryan Brown contributed to this report
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