Bomb kills 12 Iraq civilians fleeing Hawijah: officials


Kirkuk (Iraq) (AFP)

A bomb blast on Friday killed 12 civilians, among them women and children, who had fled the jihadist-held Hawijah area in northern Iraq, officials said.

The deaths highlight the extreme danger faced by civilians trying to flee areas held by the Islamic State group, who may be targeted by the jihadists as they seek to escape and then have to navigate bombs the militants have planted.

Hawijah is a town in Iraq's Kirkuk province that was seized by IS along with swathes of other territory in the summer of 2014.

Police Colonel Fatah Hassan said the displaced Iraqis had left the Hawijah area on foot but were picked up by police who were transporting them to the west when the bomb ripped through the vehicle.

Hassan, a police lieutenant colonel and Iraqi lawmaker Mohammed Tamim all confirmed that 12 displaced Iraqis were killed.

Hassan said one of the policemen trying to help them was also killed, while both police and displaced civilians were wounded.

An image obtained from police of the aftermath of the blast showed a pile of ashes along with one badly burned body in the back of the twisted remains of a white pickup truck.

The charred remains of a woman and at least one other victim lie on the dirt road behind the truck.

The lieutenant colonel said that the truck had apparently run over a bomb, an account that was initially confirmed by Hassan as well.

But Hassan later said that the blast appeared to have originated inside the vehicle, and may have been caused by explosives potentially placed by IS inside bags the women were carrying.

Lamia Haji Bashar, one of two Yazidi activists who won the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize, previously lost an eye and suffered burns to her face when one of her friends stepped on a bomb while they were fleeing Hawijah.

Bashar and Nadia Murad, the other activist, were both enslaved and raped by IS which has carried out a campaign of massacres and kidnappings targeting members of the Yazidi minority.

Farther west, Iraqi forces are fighting to retake the IS-held city of Mosul, where a million-plus civilians still live.

Fighting has been limited to the city's outskirts for now, but aid workers fear that the battle may result in mass displacement of civilians as it progresses.

Those fleeing Mosul will also be exposed to bombs planted by IS, as well as the extreme danger of being caught up in the fighting between security forces and jihadists.