IS fighters in Mosul provoking coalition strikes on civilians

Iraqi civilians walk in a neighborhood recently liberated by Iraqi security forces on the western side of Mosul Iraq

Islamic State overran about a third of Iraq in 2014, benefiting from the Sunni-Shi'ite rift that weakened the army.

Guterres, who met Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, made his trip as aid agencies struggle to cope with an exodus of residents from Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.

On Wednesday night, a suicide truck bomb targeted a police checkpoint on Baghdad's main southern entrance.

Amid reports of dozens civilians killed by airstrikes in Mosul, the statement said that "protection of civilians must be the absolute priority".

More than 200,000 people have fled west Mosul since the operation to oust the Islamic State group began last month, and officials and witnesses say that air strikes have taken a devastating toll on civilians who remained in the city.

Yet their opponents are "smuggling civilians so we won't see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack", said US Colonel Joe Scrocca, a spokesman for the Baghdad-based coalition, on Thursday. Iraqi forces launched a major operation to retake Mosul in October, retaking its eastern side before setting their sites on the smaller but more densely populated west.

Asked if the USA military was alarmed at the high number of casualties suffered by the Iraqi military in Mosul - 774 killed and 4,600 wounded, according to Votel - Scrocca declined to weigh in.

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The Iraqi forces number around 100,000 men, he added.

"The munition that was employed here should not have created the effects that we - that have been observed", Votel said.

Col. Mohammad Shumari, head of civil forces working in the area, told CNN that 141 bodies had been removed from the location of the March 17 strike in the al-Resala district of Mosul's al-Jadidah neighborhood.

Mr Guterres said he would "focus on the dire humanitarian situation on the ground".

Since the start of the Mosul military operation in October, more than 350,000 people have fled the fighting, according to United Nations figures.

Baghdadi and other IS leaders are believed to have left the city but USA officials estimate around 2,000 fighters remain inside the city, resisting with snipers hiding among the population, auto bombs and suicide trucks targeting Iraqi positions.

"We have to be able to positively identify the valid military target (and) positively identify the combatant", as well assess the potential collateral damage of a strike, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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