Investigators probe Mosul blast as Iraqi forces push into Old City

TRAGEDY:  The UN rights chief said at least 307 civilians killed and 273 wounded –

MOSUL: Investigators are in the Iraqi city of Mosul to determine whether a US-led coalition strike or IS-rigged explosives caused a blast that destroyed buildings and may have killed more than 200 people, a US military commander said.
Conflicting accounts have emerged since the March 17 explosion in Al Jadida district in west Mosul, where Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes are fighting to clear IS militants from Iraq’s second city.
Iraq’s military command has blamed militants for rigging a building with explosives to cause civilian casualties, but some witnesses say it was collapsed by an air strike, burying many families under the rubble.
If confirmed, the toll would be one of the worst since the 2003 US-led invasion, raising questions about civilian safety as Iraq’s government tries to avoid alienating Mosul’s population.
US Army chief of staff Gen Mark Milley, after meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi and Iraq’s defence minister late on Monday, said there had been air strikes in the vicinity that day and on previous days but it was not clear they had caused the casualties.
“It is very possible that Daesh blew up that building to blame it on the coalition in order to cause a delay in the offensive on Mosul and cause a delay in the use of coalition air strikes,” Milley said, using an Arabic term for IS. “It is possible that a coalition air strike did it. We don’t know yet. There are investigators on the ground.”
A source close to Abadi’s office said the US military delegation also called for more coordination among the Iraqi security force units on the ground and for consideration that thousands of civilians are stuck in their homes.
The United Nations rights chief said on Tuesday at least 307 civilians have been killed and 273 wounded in western Mosul since February 17, saying IS was herding residents into booby-trapped buildings as human shields and firing on those who tried to flee.
“This is an enemy that ruthlessly exploits civilians to serve its own ends,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said. “It is vital that the Iraqi security forces and their coalition partners avoid this trap.” Iraqi forces have retaken eastern Mosul and are pushing through the west but have faced tough resistance in the densely populated districts around the Old City, where narrow streets and traditional homes force close-quarters fighting.
Iraqi forces fighting around the Old City tried to storm the Al Midan and Suq al Sha’areen districts, where IS ran its religious police who carried out brutal punishments, federal police commander Lt Gen Raed Shakir Jawdat told state Al Sabah newspaper.— Reuters