‘Massacre’ images spark outrage in Iraq
Militants post images of purported mass killing, as Shiites heed call to fight Sunni extremists
BAGHDAD — As the Iraqi government bolstered defences in its capital city yesterday, the Islamic militant group that captured two major cities last week posted graphic photos that appeared to show its fighters massacring dozens of captured Iraqi soldiers.
The pictures on a militant website appear to show masked fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) loading the captives onto flatbed trucks before forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs. The final images show the bodies of the captives soaked in blood after being shot.
The horrific images could further sharpen sectarian tensions as hundreds of Shiites heed a call from their most revered spiritual leader to take up arms against the Sunni militants who have swept across the north. ISIL has vowed to take the battle to Baghdad and cities further south housing revered Shiite shrines.
The captions of the controversial photos say the killings were to avenge the killing of an ISIL commander, Abdul-Rahman al-Beilawy, whose death was reported by both the government and ISIL shortly before the al-Qaeda splinter group’s lightning offensive, which has plunged Iraq into its bloodiest crisis since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011.
“This is the fate that awaits the Shiites sent by Nouri to fight the Sunnis,” one caption read, apparently referring to Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Al-Moussawi, the military spokesman, confirmed the photos’ authenticity and said he was aware of cases of mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas held by ISIL.
Most of the soldiers who appear in the pictures are in civilian clothes. Some are shown wearing military uniforms underneath, indicating they may have hastily disguised themselves as civilians to try to escape.
Many soldiers and policemen left their uniforms and equipment behind as the militants swept into Mosul, Tikrit and surrounding areas.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned of reports of “murder of all kinds” and other war crimes in Iraq, and said the number killed in recent days may run into the hundreds, withs over 1,000 wounded.
While Baghdad, a city of seven million, is not in any immediate danger of falling into the hands of the militants, bombings in the city yesterday are expected to inflame tensions further.Food prices in the city have risen, twofold in some cases, because of disruption to transport on the main road heading north from the capital.
The government bolstered defences around Baghdad yesterday, a day after hundreds of Shiite men paraded through the streets with arms in response to a call by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for Iraqis to defend their country. ISIL has vowed to attack Baghdad but its advance to the south seems to have stalled in recent days. Thousands of Shiites have also volunteered to join the fight against the ISIL, also in response to al-Sistani’s call.
Despite the added security, a string of explosions killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 30 in the city, police and hospital officials said. One car bomb went off in the city centre, killing 10 and wounding 21. After nightfall, another explosion hit the area, killing two and wounding five. The third went off near a falafel shop in the city’s sprawling Sadr City district, killing three and wounding seven.
Baghdad has seen an escalation in suicide and car bombings in recent months, mostly targeting Shiite neighbourhoods or security forces.
Armed police, including SWAT teams, were seen over the weekend manning checkpoints in Baghdad, searching vehicles and checking drivers’ documents. Security was particularly tightened on the northern and western approaches of the city, the likely targets of any advance by ISIL fighters on the capital.
Support from Washington
The crisis in Iraq has prompted the United States to order an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf. It also laid out specific ways for Iraq to show it is forging the national unity necessary to gain assistance in its fight against the ISIL and other militants.
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday ordered the USS George H.W. Bush from the northern Arabian Sea as President Barack Obama considered possible military options for Iraq. Hagel’s press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, said the move will give Obama additional flexibility if military action were required to protect US citizens and interests in Iraq.
Accompanying the carrier will be a guided-missile cruiser and a destroyer.
In Baghdad, Iraqi government officials said ISIL fighters were trying to capture the city of Tal Afar in the north of the country yesterday and raining down rockets seized last week from military arms depots. The officials said the local garrison suffered heavy casualties and the town’s main hospital was unable to cope with the number of wounded, without providing exact numbers.
Reports emerged that the small city had been taken over by militants, but the news could not be confirmed at press time last night.
Blair: crisis not down to war
Former British prime minister Tony Blair said yesterday it was “profoundly wrong” to think that the 2003 Anglo-US invasion of Iraq helped stoke the current crisis and urged the West to take targeted military action there.
In comments likely to anger his detractors at home and abroad who believe his decisions to intervene militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan made things worse in the region, Blair told British TV that the Iraq crisis would have happened regardless of his actions.
“You can carry on debating about whether it was right or wrong what we did in 2003 but whatever had been done, you were always going to have a problem of deep instability in the region and in Iraq,” he told Sky News.
If Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had not been toppled by US and British troops, his government would have been caught up in the same “Arab Spring” uprisings that later shook the region and now be embroiled in a bloody Syrian-style war, Blair said.
Blair, who heads a global political consultancy business, said the West would be pulled into the Iraq crisis whether it liked it or not, urging it to target Islamist extremists in Iraq and Syria with the agreement of Arab governments in the region.
“I’m not suggesting we put ground troops in and we do a full scale invasion as we did in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I am saying we are going to have to take an active role in trying to shape events,” he said.
Herald with AP, Reuters