Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday that he had ordered his air force to halt strikes on civilians, following attacks by both Iraqi and U.S. jets in large areas of the country held by Islamic State fighters, Reuters reported.
The announcement, which comes as the United States tries to build regional support for deeper military action against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, may be aimed at winning Sunni Muslim support for Abadi's new Shi'ite-led government as it battles the group which controls one third of Iraqi territory.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been touring the Middle East to coordinate a response to Islamic State's growing power in eastern Syria and western Iraq. In Cairo on Saturday, he said Egypt has a critical role to play in countering the group's hardline Sunni Islamist ideology.
Abadi said his order to protect civilians had been issued on Thursday, a day after he held talks with Kerry in Baghdad.
Sunni Muslim tribal figures, who the U.S. hopes can be persuaded to turn against the jihadists, have demanded a freeze on military action on civilian areas as one of the conditions for their support of Shi'ite-led government.
But residents in two Sunni areas of Iraq said there had been indiscriminate air strikes during the past two days.
"I have ordered the Iraqi Air Force to halt shelling of civilian areas even in those towns controlled by ISIS," Abadi said on his official Twitter account, using the former name for militant group Islamic State.
The United Nation's representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, welcomed the comments, which were repeated by Abadi at a conference about refugees on Saturday in Baghdad.
"Protection of civilians and ensuring their safety and security is a paramount priority for the United Nations," Mladenov said.
Islamic State took the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit in June and has announced an Islamic Caliphate in areas it controls.
Its fighters have shocked the world with killings of Sunnis, Shi'ites, Christians, Yazidis and Kurds. Western governments and Islamic countries fear their citizens who fight for Islamic State could threaten national security if they return.