Iraq’s prime minister said Saturday he has ordered the army to stop shelling populated areas held by militants in order to spare the lives of “innocent victims” as the armed forces struggle to retake cities and towns seized by the Islamic State extremist group this summer.
“I issued this order two days ago because we do not want to see more innocent victims falling in the places and provinces controlled by Daesh,” Haider al-Abadi told a news conference in Baghdad, referring to the Islamic State group by its Arabic acronym.
He accused the militants of using civilians as a human shield to stop the advance of Iraqi security forces. But he vowed to continue military operations against the al-Qaida breakaway group, which seized large territories in the north and west in an unprecedented June offensive.
“We will continue to chase them (IS fighters) and we know that they are hiding behind the civilians,” he added.
The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, who was present at the conference, welcomed al-Abadi’s commitment to protect civilians.
The army’s heavy-handed tactics have long fueled anger among the country’s Sunni minority, leading many to welcome the insurgents as liberators when they swept into Sunni-majority areas earlier this year. The Shiite-led government is under mounting pressure from the international community to reach out to both Sunnis and Kurds in order to form a united front against the militant onslaught.