United Nations chief Guterres lands in Iraq to review aid efforts

Iraqi forces have suffered almost 1,900 troops killed or wounded just over 30 says into the operation to retake western Mosul, Gen. Votel said.

The building was where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the establishment of a "caliphate" in 2014. Residents of the Iraqi city's neighborhood known as Mosul Jidideh at the scene say that scores of residents are believed to have been killed by airstrikes that hit a cluster of homes in the area.

Iraqis fleeing their homes in Mosul's old city carry their belongings as they leave the fighting area on March 30, 2017, due to the ongoing battles between government forces and Islamic State (IS) group fighters.

Since the start of the Mosul military operation in October, more than 350,000 people have fled the fighting, according to United Nations figures. The U.S., however, has not verified the Iraqi forces' assertion.

Iraqi special forces and police battled Daesh militants in close-quarters fighting to edge closer to the al-Nuri mosque in western Mosul on Wednesday, tightening their control around the landmark site in the battle to recapture Iraq's second city.

Elite troops from the interior ministry's Rapid Response Force were also advancing into the Old City on Wednesday, an official told the Reuters news agency. Islamic State responded with rocket fire. That, coupled with initial inquiries done by USA technical experts who visited the scene, led him to say: "My initial assessment is that we probably had a role in these casualties".

Numerous displaced have returned to their homes in areas retaken from Islamic State but some, like Saqr, have not yet been allowed to return by the authorities. The militants have been using small commercial models to spy and drop munitions on Iraqi military positions.

Guterres's visit comes at a critical time for Iraq, which is fighting to retake Mosul in a battle that has sparked myriad humanitarian concerns.

The top USA commander in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, has ordered a formal investigation into the Mosul strike on March 17 which is set to include strikes days before and after the coalition bombing that likely killed upwards of 100 civilians.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Rupert Colville from the UN's human rights office said the agency has tallied the deaths of at least 307 people between 17 February and 22 March, including 140 from the 17 March air strike.

The exact number of casualties reported has varied widely, but rescue workers are still sifting through rubble nearly two weeks later.

What exactly happened on March 17 is still unclear and there have been conflicting accounts of how many people died.

U.S. munitions used in Mosul should not have been capable of bringing down an entire building and a fuller and more complicated explanation would be available in time, he said. After the Iraqi request is made, the US does an assessment on the damage the strike will have on civilians in the surrounding area.

"We don't need to use a 500-hundred-pound bomb which is going to destroy a building if we can use a Hellfire missile which is just going to blow out a room and kill some fighters", said Scrocca. We still have some assessments to do.

"We know that we were dropping bombs in the immediate vicinity".

"The enemy had a hand in this", he explained, stressing that "It sure looks like" the civilians has been forced to gather in the building by the terrorists.

  • Leroy Wright