At least six Iraqi police officers and allied militiamen were killed in U.S. airstrikes early Saturday during a raid for a wanted Islamic State militant after they were apparently mistaken by Iraq’s military for armed insurgents.
The apparent friendly-fire incident is being investigated by Iraqi and American officials in Baghdad, but it already has provoked some anger among critics of the United States who have long been suspicious or hostile to the U.S. military’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State.
Iraq’s joint operations command, the umbrella for Iraq’s military, police and militia forces, said that before dawn a team of Iraqi troops was executing a search in the Anbar province town of al-Baghdadi for a man with links to Islamic State.
The team was backed by U.S. air power, the command said.
Once the militant was arrested, the Iraqi forces encountered an armed group they did not recognize and American helicopters swooped in and opened fire, according to the command statement.
The command said it was launching an investigation into the incident.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition did not respond to a request for comment, but in a Twitter post said the U.S. air support only comes at the request of or by approval of the Iraqi military.
“NO unilateral coalition operations in Iraq,” Col. Ryan Dillon said in the tweet.
Khalid al-Obaidi, a local tribal leader in al-Baghdadi, said in a telephone interview that the airstrike had also injured 20 people, including the leaders of al-Baghdadi’s police and local council.
Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, long a critic of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, in a statement said, the “American occupation proves its tyranny, its arrogance and its blatant aggression against the Iraqi government, its independence and its sovereignty, by indiscriminately and unjustly bombarding Baghdadi district which claimed innocent lives.”
Sadr, who also recently positioned himself as a nationalist who opposes Iranian meddling in Iraq, demanded that the “aggressors” be punished.
On Friday, the U.S.-led coalition reported that by the end of 2017, 831 civilians had been killed in coalition airstrikes during the three-year war against Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.
However, Airwars, an independent monitoring group, has said that number is implausible, given the intensity of the war, particularly in Islamic State’s self-declared capitals of Mosul and Raqqa. The group said their research has shownthat up to 9,210 noncombatants had been killed by the end of last year.