Iraqi military announced Sunday that 61 bodies had been pulled from a collapsed building in western Mosul, while eyewitness reports suggest the real death toll may be closer to 200. While the statement advised that the building had been booby-trapped by the Islamic State, an investigation is underway to determine if a U.S.-led airstrike in the al Ladida district of Mosul was to blame.
The statement was made in response to mounting eyewitness reports that the bodies of up to 200 civilians had been recovered from the collapsed building, while dozens of more bodies, including those of pregnant women, children, and babies remained at the scene.
In an official statement on Saturday, the U.S.-led coalition announced they had carried out a strike on Islamic State militants in the area of the building, but the specifics were still under investigation. In the statement, the pentagon explained that the strike was at the request of the Iraqi military as part of the United States' ongoing effort to return the area to Iraqi control.
"The coalition respects human life, which is why we are assisting our Iraqi partner forces in their effort to liberate their lands from ISIS brutality."The coalition did not provide figures for any known casualties nor did they give details on the intended target of the strike. While the investigation is predicted to take between two to three weeks, it has been reported that if the building collapse is found to be the result of the U.S.-led strike, it would mark the deadliest civilian casualty incident since the U.S. became involved in 2014.
Much of the situation remains unclear as the Iraqi forces, with the support of the U.S. military and other friendly forces, battle with Islamic State for the west of the city – the last remaining area under ISIS control.
One report suggests that the coalition strike hit a nearby truck bomb, leading to the collapse of the building. Vehicle bombs are a popular strategy with ISIS and are often detonated as a form of defense at the sign of approaching military.
Iraqi military has said that according to eyewitness reports, ISIS militants had forced civilians inside the basement of the building to use as human shields against the advancing coalition. There are also reports that militants fired at Iraqi and U.S. troops from inside the building.
The chaos surrounding the collapse has highlighted the complexity involved with pushing the Islamic State out of western Mosul. Originally the "Old City," the area is comprised mostly of narrow streets and alleyways lined with family homes, is effectively forcing Iraqi troops to take to the streets to fight ISIS militants. In addition to the heightened risk to Iraqi troops, the common practice of ISIS militants hiding in homes for cover puts a greater number of civilians at risk.
In a recent Twitter post, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim Jabouri said, "We realize the huge responsibility the liberating forces shoulder" while calling for them to "spare no effort to save the civilians."
Meanwhile, Iraqi Vice President Osama Nujaifi has slammed coalition efforts, calling the raid a "humanitarian catastrophe" while calling on the United Nations to investigate. For their part, UN officials have released a statement saying they are "profoundly concerned" by the attack.
Stories from Mosul locals paint a concerning picture about the reality of life in the city. Speaking to local media, Dari Saoud, 19, said he had just witnessed a house in his neighborhood targeted by an air strike that killed 30.
"They [coalition] are accurate about their goals, their targets, but Daesh [ISIS] has time to escape."
Saoud went on to explain that he didn't blame the coalition for the civilian casualties, saying it was because of ISIS that civilians have been caught in the line of fire.
The investigation continues.
[Featured Image by Martin Aym/Getty Images]