TIKRIT, Iraq, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- At least 31 Iraqis were killed and 41 wounded in an airstrike that hit a school filled with displaced civilians earlier this month, Human Rights Watch reports.
The attack came on the night of Sept. 1 in the city of Al-Alam, just northeast of Tikrit, in Islamic State-controlled territory. About 70 displaced civilians from the same extended family had been staying in the Al-Alam Vocational High School for Industry in the Alwayi Al-Thawri neighborhood after IS fighters took over Tikrit in June. By June 23, they had also seized Al-Alam.
Three survivors of the airstrike told Human Rights Watch that just before midnight what sounded like a helicopter passed over the school before a large blast killed dozens of displaced Tikritis gathered in the courtyard, including 24 children. There were no IS fighters or military equipment near the school at the time of the attack, they said, but IS fighters had fired at an Iraqi aircraft five hours earlier in a nearby area.
On Saturday the Iraqi government said that the strike was targeting a car thought to be filled with IS fighters, and that as it passed by the school the ensuing blast was "far larger than normal" due to the vehicle's explosive cargo.
Fred Abrahams, a special adviser to Human Rights Watch, said that Iraq's allies should put pressure on Baghdad to stop such attacks. "ISIS is incredibly brutal, but that's no excuse for what the Iraqi government is doing," he said.
Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi government to investigate the airstrike, and Ashwaq al-Jabouri, a parliamentarian from Al-Alam, has asked the same of the president of parliament.
Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi halted the Iraqi Air Force's strikes on civilian areas Saturday, even in IS-controlled towns.
Iraq's parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jabouri told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that U.S. airstrikes in his country should be accurate and avoid civilian deaths.
"The only condition that we mention for using airstrikes was for it to be precise and targeted, and to target positions of terrorists and ISIS, which had been proven with absolute certainty that it is ISIS or terrorists" al-Jabouri said. "As for airstrikes that are random, which will target citizens, this is something that we reject naturally, and we do not consider that as a constructive military strategy, because it is the innocent who will pay the price, and as such, we will lose many souls and their hatred will increase."