BAGHDAD — An Iraqi fighter jet accidentally dropped a bomb over a residential neighborhood of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least eight people in a blunder that officials blamed on a “technical fault.”
The Iraqi Defense Ministry said the bomb became stuck and failed to deploy during a sortie over the western province of Anbar, where government forces are battling Islamic State militants. As the plane returned to base, the bomb accidentally fell on the Christian-Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad al-Jadida, in the eastern part of the capital.
Iraq has just a handful of functioning fighter jets, which it acquired second-hand from Russia and Iran in its attempts to cobble together an air force in the wake of the Islamic State’s advances last year. Monday’s misfire is not the first mistake involving the aging Sukhoi fighter jets, which accidentally bombed government forces in the city of Tikrit earlier this year.
“The lousy government is killing us all,” wailed Iqbal Turki, whose 27-year-old cousin, Ibrahim Abbas, was killed in the strike. “An Iraqi plane bombing its own civilians — how can this happen?”
The top floor of the house, where Abbas had been sleeping, had collapsed. Next door, seven members of one family, including four children, were killed, residents said. The house was destroyed. Some news agencies reported a higher death toll; the Associated Press said 12 people were killed.
“At first we thought it was a car bomb,” said Saad Kichan, 42, who lives nearby. “But then we hear it’s a technical error by a plane. The people are very angry.”
Although the United States spent more than $25 billion training and equipping Iraq’s army after dismantling its military in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, it left Iraq without a functioning air force.
When the country began to acquire the warplanes last year, military officials complained that the outdated technology on the decades-old aircraft could lead to civilian casualties. The United States agreed to sell Iraq 36 F-16 fighter jets in a deal completed in 2012, but they have yet to be delivered. The first batch is expected to arrive this summer, but the jets may operate from Jordan for security and logistical reasons, Iraqi officials say.
In March, Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi showed off the air force’s five jets in a media event at an air base in Baghdad. Seven more planes had been acquired at the time but were not fit for use, pilots said.
As the planes took off for bombing raids on Tikrit, which was largely controlled by the Islamic State, one accidentally bombed a base for pro-government fighters at Tikrit University.
In Monday’s misfire, two Sukhoi jets took off to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in western Iraq, the Defense Ministry said. A bomb from one aircraft did not deploy because of a “technical fault,” it said. The pilot was instructed to try to drop the bomb again and attempted to do so six times before he was ordered back to base because the plane was running out of fuel.
An investigation into the incident is underway, the ministry said.
Baghdad’s governor, Ali al-Timimi, called for the air base in the capital to be moved to the outskirts, away from the civilian population. The air force has agreed to pay compensation to the victims, he said in a statement.
Mustafa Salim contributed to this report.