BAGHDAD: Iraqi Shiite militias have drawn up hit lists of suspected Sunni insurgents to be kidnapped, executed and hung in public, security and police officials said, raising the stakes in a sectarian war tearing the country apart.
The militias became a vital line of defense for the Shiite-led government after the army collapsed in the face of a June advance spearheaded by ISIS militants who seized large swathes of land in the north and aim to march on Baghdad.
The militias’ increasingly ruthless tactics, in towns north of the capital, near the front line with insurgents, could radicalize Sunnis who say innocent people are being swept up in the fighting.
“They have a hit list of Sunni individuals that are considered a threat to security forces and the Shiite population,” said a senior security official in Diyala Province who works with the militias. “Everyone on the list should be eliminated to clear the province of groups supporting ISIS.”
While the militias say they are removing a threat from terrorists, critics accuse them of pushing Iraq into a sectarian abyss. Shiite militias are also helping security forces fight Sunni insurgents who have taken control of parts of Western Iraq.
Events in Baqouba, an ethnically mixed town 65 km northeast of Baghdad, this week illustrate the methods the militias are adopting to discourage Sunnis from joining ISIS, which believes Shiites are apostates who deserve to die.
Basim Amir al-Jubouri left home on July 20 to run his small food shop. He was kidnapped en route by Shiite militiamen who were suspicious of his background, relatives and police say.
Jubouri, 27, was arrested in 2006 and held in a detention center run by U.S. forces who suspected him of supporting Al-Qaeda. He was released a year later, relatives said.
Jubouri’s body was hung from an electricity pole in a public square in Baqouba Wednesday, along with 14 others, a warning to anyone with sympathies for ISIS.
Jubouri’s relatives are too scared to retrieve his body because Shiite militias are still roaming Baqouba.
“Basim was kidnapped by militia and early today we got a call from a policeman friend informing us that he was killed and stayed hanged on a pole all yesterday,” said a relative who asked not to be identifed.
“We can’t go to get the body. Hit squads are stationed near the morgue entrance to snatch more Sunnis. Police warned us.”
Police and security forces need the help of Shiite militias such as the Iranian-trained Asaib Ahl al-Haqq, which now rival the army in their ability to confront Sunni insurgents.
Cooperation with them, despite their methods, appears to be considered acceptable because the likely alternative is worse – being taken over by ISIS fighters who routinely execute security forces.
“We can’t hide the fact that without the Shiite Asaib militia’s help, ISIS flags would be flying on top of the Baqouba government headquarters now,” said a police captain who runs joint patrols with the militias.
“They are too cruel, yes, but cruelty sometimes can pay off, especially with a merciless enemy like ISIS.”
A Baqouba police captain who described the executions as “part of war” said his men routinely share information with the militias. “They are not operating randomly but they carry out the arrests depending on carefully set lists,” he said.
As sectarian tensions deepen, Shiite militia leaders like Abu Ridha al-Tamimi, who is based in Baqouba, will keep working their way through hit lists.
“They decapitate Shiite heads if they catch us and we hang their bodies on electricity poles. That’s fair because it’s an eye for an eye,” he told Reuters by telephone.