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Air strike kills 55 civilians in western Iraq

Iraq's speaker of parliament demands probe into incident that left 12 women and 19 children dead
Almost 2,000 soldiers and hundreds of civilians were killed in Iraq in November (AFP)

Air strikes killed dozens of people, including women and children, in an Islamic State-held town near Iraq's western border with Syria on Wednesday, two parliamentarians and local hospital sources said.

They said the air strikes hit a busy market in the town of Qaim, in Iraq's Anbar province, describing the incident as a massacre. The hospital sources said 55 civilians were killed, including 12 women and 19 children, in three air strikes.

The bodies of eight militants were delivered to Qaim hospital morgue, the hospital sources said.

A spokesperson for the provincial council of Anbar claimed the strike was carried out by an Iraqi aircraft and demanded a government probe.

"The strike hit a market at peak hour, there were retirees queuing up, picking up their pensions, people collecting salaries and social security payments," Eid Ammash said. "Entire families were killed."

Maath al-Jughaifi, a tribal leader in Haditha, the nearest city, said "between 70 people and 80 people were killed" in Al-Qaim, but claimed the strike was carried out by the US-led coalition that has carried out thousands of strikes against IS.

There was no immediate comment from Iraq's Joint Operations Command supervising the fight against IS or from the US-led coalition.

Iraq's speaker of parliament Salim al-Juburi condemned the air strike by saying in a statement that the attack "targeted a market area for civilians and resulted in the death and injury of dozens of them".

He said he "holds the government responsible for such mistakes" and demanded the immediate launch of an investigation into the strike.

If confirmed, the blunder would be one of the worst cases of civilians killed in air strikes in Iraq since the start of the air campaign against the Islamic State (IS) group in 2014.

Officials in Anbar, the western province in which Al-Qaim is located, said dozens were killed in the afternoon strike, although AFP could not reach sources in the town to confirm the casualty toll.

Amaq, an IS-affiliated propaganda website, released a video purporting to show the aftermath of the strike and claimed 120 people were killed.

AFP could not authenticate the footage, which showed devastation in a market area and a large number of dead and wounded strewn across the street or being treated.

Al-Qaim lies a few kilometres from the border with Syria, about 320km west of the capital Baghdad and is the last major town in Anbar still under IS control.

Almost 2,000 soldiers and hundreds of civilians were killed in Iraq in November, the UN said on 2 December, in a "staggering" spike in deaths coinciding with operations to retake the Islamic State-held city of Mosul.

The figure increased threefold from October, when tens of thousands of troops launched an assault to retake IS's last major Iraqi bastion of Mosul.

According to the UN mission in Iraq's monthly tally, 1,959 Iraqi forces were killed last month and at least 450 others wounded.

The toll includes members of the army, police who are engaged in combat, the Kurdish Peshmerga, interior ministry forces and pro-government paramilitaries.

The UN statement also said at least 926 civilians were killed, bringing to 2,885 the number who died in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict last month.

"The casualty figures are staggering, with civilians accounting for a significant number of the victims," said the top UN envoy in Iraq, Jan Kubis.

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