Threat of more air strikes sends thousands fleeing Mosul

Displaced Iraqis flee their homes due to fighting between government troops and IS. Picture: AFP/Getty
Displaced Iraqis flee their homes due to fighting between government troops and IS. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Thousands of terrified civilians in Iraq have taken flight amid fears of further air strikes on the city of Mosul.

Pictures from the region show families boarding buses and pushing wagons packed with their belongings to travel to refugee camps amid fears of air attacks and fighting by Iraqi forces.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Syria, warplanes struck rebel-held parts of the country, killing and wounding scores of people amid clashes on multiple fronts between government forces and insurgent groups in some of the worst violence to hit the country in weeks.

Last week, there were reports of an air strike that left more than 100 civilians dead in a western part of Mosul where US-backed government troops are fighting so-called Islamic State.

It has also been claimed that IS is using civilians as human shields in the region, hiding in houses and forcing young men to fight. Senior Iraqi politicians yesterday expressed concern over the strikes.

In tweets published on his official account, Iraqi parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jabouri said: “We realise the huge responsibility the liberating forces shoulder” and called on them to “spare no effort to save the civilians”. Al-Jabouri is a prominent Sunni Muslim politician in Iraq.

Vice president Osama al-Nujaifi, himself from Mosul, described the incident as a “humanitarian catastrophe,” blaming the US-led coalition air strikes and excessive use of force by militarised Federal Police forces.

Al-Nujaifi put the number of civilians killed at “hundreds”.

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

It was unclear who carried out the air strikes, but on Friday the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria said it was investigating the allegations.

Mosul residents reported two air strikes hitting a residential area on 13 and 17 March.

Meanwhile, at least 16 people in Syria have been killed after air strikes hit the rebel-held city of Idlib in the north-west of the country, opposition activists have claimed.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Friday night attack struck a prison run by militants.

The Local Co-ordination Committee, another opposition activist group, said five air raids struck the city, without giving further details.

Idlib is a stronghold of Syrian insurgent groups and is regularly targeted by Syrian and Russian war planes.

“They have been hitting Hamouriyeh for days but today they struck an area packed with civilians,” said Awis al-Shami of the Civil Defence search and rescue group, also known as the White Helmets.

The air strikes come as insurgent groups have been on the offensive in Damascus and the central province of Hama for the past few days.

Government forces and their allies launched a counteroffensive capturing some of the areas they lost in Damascus and Hama.