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Dozens of Iraqi civilians, some of them still alive and calling out for help, were buried for days under the rubble of their homes in western Mosul after American-led airstrikes flattened almost an entire city block.
At the site on Sunday, more than a week after the bombing runs, reporters for The New York Times saw weary survivors trying to find bodies in the wreckage. Iraqi officials said the final death toll could reach 200 or more, potentially making it one of the worst civilian tolls ever in an American military strike in Iraq.
The fighting against the Islamic State here has grown more urgent, with Iraqi officers saying the American-led coalition has been quicker to strike urban targets from the air with less time to weigh the risks for civilians. They say the change reflects a renewed push by the American military under the Trump administration to speed up the battle for Mosul.
Starting with the surge into Mosul in December, they say, American military advisers have been given more authority to call in some airstrikes that do not have to be approved through headquarters.
Right now, the battle for Mosul is in its most dangerous phase for civilians, with the fight reaching into the twisting alleys and densely populated areas of the old city. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are pinned down here in tight quarters with Islamic State fighters who do not care if they live or die.
At the same time, more American Special Operations troops, some dressed in black uniforms and driving black vehicles — the colors of their Iraqi counterparts — are closer to the front lines. That way, in theory, the targeting of Islamic State fighters should become more precise for the coalition. Another 200 American soldiers, from the 82nd Airborne Division, are heading to Iraq to support that battle over the next few days.
Residents who were in the neighborhood during the fighting suggested that there had been every reason to believe the area was filled with civilians at the time of the airstrikes — especially because the Iraqi government and its American allies had dropped leaflets asking civilians to remain in their homes rather than risk fleeing into the middle of the battle.
Residents and Iraqi officers said that Islamic State fighters, some speaking Russian, according to residents, had taken sniper positions on the rooftops of homes, pinning down some advancing Iraqi forces. Hundreds of residents, trying to escape indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire and fearful of airstrikes, took refuge in basements.
It was there that they died, from airstrikes targeting the snipers that caused entire buildings to collapse, survivors recounted.