JEDDAH: An airstrike killed 15 women on Friday at a shrine near the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, local officials and medics said.
“Fifteen women were killed and another 50 wounded in a raid that targeted a Shiite place of worship at Dakuk,” local council chief Amir Huda Karam told AFP.
The toll from the afternoon raid was confirmed by Dr Abbas Mustafa Dakuki at the local hospital, some 50 km south of Kirkuk.
Speaking to Arab News on the phone on Friday night, the Pentagon press office said they are still looking into what happened and will issue a statement accordingly.
“We are aware of the report. We don’t have any information to provide right now. We are still looking into what happened — wheather we had any aircraft flying over the area at the time. Once we get a solid hand on what actually took place there, we will provide information very soon. So right now we don’t have any information to provide,” said Maj. Adrian from the Pentagon’s Public Affairs desk.
Meanwhile, Iranian state-owned Press TV reported the incident accusing the US-lead coalition of being behind the strike. They, however, quoted Iraqi sources in their report without any US confirmation or denial.
Earlier, Daesh attacked the city in an apparent effort to divert thousands of troops and militiamen closing in on their stronghold in Mosul, Iraq’s second city.
The city woke up Friday to the sound of shooting and praise for Daesh blared through mosque loudspeakers by dozens of heavily armed terrorists raiding the Iraqi city.
Some of them carried grenades and wore explosives vests or belts as they fanned across several neighborhoods of the city in the early hours of the morning.
A reporter attended the interrogation of a suspected attacker who said moments after his arrest by Kurdish forces that the attack was designed to ease the pressure on the Mosul front.
“Today’s attack was one of caliph’s plans to demonstrate that Daesh is expanding and reduce the pressure on the Mosul front,” he said.
The young man, wearing a gray track suit, had his hands cuffed behind his back and gave his name as Hani Aydan Mustafa but his role in the organization was not clear.
The attack on Kirkuk, a strategic city some 240 km north of Baghdad, demonstrated the group’s continued ability to time its attacks and grab headlines.
The raid saw at least five suicide bombers target government buildings, including Kirkuk’s main police headquarters. Ensuing clashes left at least six policemen and 12 terrorists dead.
A curfew was in place and sporadic gunfire could still be heard as night fell on the streets of Kirkuk, which was turned into a war zone with armored vehicles taking position and groups of security forces perched on roofs or crouching behind walls. The attack had no immediate impact on the operation to retake Mosul.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Friday he was confident that Turkey would take part in the battle to retake Mosul, following tensions between Ankara and Baghdad over the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq.
“Iraq understands that Turkey as a member of the counter-ISIL coalition will play a role in counter-ISIL operations in Iraq and secondly that Turkey since it neighbors the region of Mosul has an interest (in) the ultimate outcome in Mosul,” Carter said.
Daesh extremists have taken 550 families from villages around Mosul and are holding them close to Daesh locations in the Iraqi city, probably as human shields, the UN human rights office said on Friday.
“We are gravely worried by reports that ISIL is using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields as the Iraqi forces advance, keeping civilians close to their offices or places where fighters are located, which may result in civilian casualties,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said in a statement.
UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani, citing “verified information” from local contacts, said 200 families were forced to walk to Mosul from Samalia village on Oct. 17, and another 350 families left Najafia village for Mosul on the same day.
“This would seem to indicate that the reason for these moves is to use them for the purposes of human shields,” she said.
A top US official said the international coalition should move on to take the group’s headquarters in Raqqa in Syria once the battle in Mosul has been won. “We need to do both things, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria,” US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told radio station RTL in Paris, speaking in French.
— With input from agencies