Iraq's speaker warns of civilian deaths from US air strikes

Iraq's speaker warns of civilian deaths from US air strikes
An Islamic State fighter keeps guard as people, who according to them are employees of the Islamic State hired to monitor and check the quality of goods in markets, throw confiscated products in central Raqqa August 14, 2014.

BAGHDAD - Iraq's parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri has told US Secretary of State John Kerry that air strikes on Islamic State should not kill civilians, the speaker said to Reuters in an interview.

President Barack Obama has promised to destroy the Islamist militants using a "systematic campaign of air strikes". Washington has already conducted more than 150 strikes in Iraq in recent weeks.

"The only condition that we made was that the air strikes must be concentrated and accurate and against the terrorist groups," Jabouri said at his house in Baghdad on Wednesday after meeting Kerry.

Islamic State fighters have seized large chunks of Iraq's north and parts of western Anbar province this year. The group has been tolerated by some of the Sunni Muslim minority who accuse the Shi'ite-led government of marginalising their community and arresting them indiscriminately.

Jabouri, a 43-year-old Sunni, is considered a balancing force in a political system dominated by Shi'ites.

A doctor of law, Jabouri says he believes in Baghdad's government; two of his brothers were killed by the Sunni militant group al-Qaeda in Iraq. But he also appeals to Sunnis who are sceptical of Iraq's Shi'ite elite.

Washington hopes that Sunnis like Jabouri can help bring the country together to defeat Islamic State. Until now, many Sunni tribal fighters and members of armed factions have sided with Islamic State rather than the government, convinced Baghdad is the greater of two evils.

To help win Sunnis over, Jabouri argued that the Iraqi security forces needed to stop immediately their use of indiscriminate "barrel bombs" and artillery to batter Sunni areas of Iraq where Islamic State are in control.

Residents in Falluja and Gharma in Anbar, where Islamic State has a large presence, regularly report massive shelling that kills civilians and destroys homes.

The US supplied munitions to the Iraqi military for its fight against Islamic State this year in Anbar, where hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

In June, the US military asked the Iraqi government to stop the use of barrel bombs, but according to the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch, Anbar residents and security officers, barrel bomb attacks have resumed.

"Random shelling that targets civilians is rejected by us, naturally, and is not considered as a constructive military practice," Jabouri said.

"Because civilians will receive the greatest degree of harm and in truth we will lose many lives and they will hate us more."

On Thursday, 14 barrel bombs were dropped on Falluja city, killing 22 civilians, a source at a hospital in the city said.

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