Iraqi officials are downplaying allegations by human rights groups about high numbers of civilian casualties and abuses following the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State terror group.
Military officials visiting the Pentagon Thursday placed the blame for civilian deaths during the fighting in Mosul on the tactics employed by IS fighters as Iraqi forces closed in on their positions.
They also suggested videos purporting to show Iraqi forces beating or abusing suspected IS fighters who had been taken prisoner may be fakes.
"There are those who would like to make the victories made by the military of Iraq not as significant," Brig. Gen Saad Maan, a spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command and Iraq's Interior Ministry, said through an interpreter.
"There are a lot of fabrications and rumors and false news regarding what happened," Maan added.
Human Rights Watch said Thursday it had used satellite imagery to confirm that a video posted to Facebook the day before had been taken in west Mosul.
The video shows men in Iraqi military uniforms beating a detainee and shooting at him.
Maan told Pentagon reporters that Iraqi officials had looked at the images and that some military personnel had been suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation.
The Iraqi officials also responded to a Human Rights Watch report that at least 170 families allegedly connected to IS had been forcibly relocated to a "rehabilitation camp" outside of Mosul.
"Iraqi authorities shouldn't punish entire families because of their relatives' actions," HRW Middle East Director Lama Fakih said in a statement. "These abusive acts are war crimes and are sabotaging efforts to promote reconciliation in areas retaken from ISIS."
Iraqi Joint Operations Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said through a translator: "There is no situation or scenario where the Iraqi forces will forcefully get people out of their homes."
Rasool said officials were still seeking "precise information," but added there were instances in which Iraqi forces aided civilians trying to safely leave the city.
Human rights groups also have been raising concerns about the number of civilians killed during the operation to retake west Mosul from Islamic State.
But Rasool put the blame for those deaths on IS tactics.
"This terrorist organization was trying to cause the most civilian casualties knowing very well they had lost the battle of Mosul," he said.
"They booby-trapped everything. The small areas. The alleyways," Rasool noted. "They were using hundreds of booby-trapped vehicles and they used it among civilians."
Human rights group Amnesty International released a report Tuesday saying at least 400 civilians died just in west Mosul between January and mid-May.
Growing concerns about potential human rights violations and the high civilian death toll come as Iraqi forces remain engaged in efforts to clear parts of Mosul, where pockets of IS fighters are either hiding or trying to hold out.
At the same time, Iraqi officials are starting to shift some of their focus toward the next steps in the campaign to eradicate IS from its remaining strongholds.
IS fighters remain
U.S. officials estimate that aside from perhaps a few hundred IS militants left in Mosul, there could be as many as another 2,000 fighters holding out in other parts of Iraq, although their grip on what is left of their self-declared caliphate is slipping.
"With the coalition's help the ISF will keep the pressure on this enemy while they are on their heels," Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said.
He described Islamic State's military decline as "increasingly rapid."
Iraqi military officials said their next target could be Tal Afar, about 60 kilometers to the west of Mosul, or the town of Hawija, to the southeast, in Iraq's Kirkuk province.
They also said that despite the toll IS was able to inflict on Iraqi forces during the nearly nine-month battle for Mosul, the military still could launch simultaneous operations in multiple locations against the terror group.
Source: Voice of America