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Iraq's parliament speaker demands inquiry into deadly Qaim air strikes

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s parliament speaker called on Thursday for a government inquiry into air strikes on an Islamic State-held western border town which local politicians said had killed around 60 people, mostly civilians.

Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Salim al-Jabouri speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad, January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily/File Photo

Hospital sources and two parliamentarians said the air strikes killed dozens of civilians, including 12 women and 19 children on Wednesday in a market district of the town of Qaim, close to the border with Syria.

Parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri, the most senior Sunni Muslim politician in mainly Shi’ite-ruled Iraq, said the air strikes targeted “civilian shopping centers, causing the martyrdom and wounding of dozens”, and called for the perpetrators to be punished.

“The speaker holds the government responsible for such mistakes, asking them to open an immediate inquiry to find out the truth of the incident and to guarantee that civilians are not targeted again,” his office said.

Iraq’s joint military command, responding more than 24 hours after the incident, criticized media and politicians for telling what it said was a “fake story” from Qaim. It said the town, and all information coming from it, was controlled by Islamic State.

Iraqi air force planes carried out two missions shortly after midday on Wednesday, it said, targeting buildings where around 50 terrorists and suicide bombers, all foreigners, were sheltering.

It said the air force took great efforts to protect civilians and the targets “were determined based on accurate intelligence and verified by our sources in the area”.

Qaim, and the western province in which it is located, is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. The town lies on the Euphrates river, northwest of Baghdad, part of a remote region near the Syrian border which remains under the control of ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim Islamic State fighters.

Wednesday’s air strikes took place as Iraqi forces wage a seven-week-old campaign to crush the Islamic State militants who control the city of Mosul, about 280 km (175 miles) northeast of Qaim.

Amaq, a news agency linked to Islamic State, released video footage showing what it said was the aftermath of the attacks.

Burning white minibuses could be seen on a wide main road lined by shops, as well as corpses, some charred and others bloodied, and the bodies of several children. Many buildings had been wrecked.

Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Janet Lawrence