BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces found 53 corpses, blindfolded and handcuffed, south of Baghdad Wednesday in scenes reminiscent of the country's civil war.
Officials said dozens of bodies were discovered near the mainly Shiite village of Khamissiya, with bullets to the chest and head, the latest mass killing since Sunni insurgents swept through northern Iraq.
“Fifty-three unidentified corpses were found, all of them blindfolded and handcuffed,” Sadeq Madloul, governor of the mainly Shiite southern province of Babil, told reporters.
He said the victims appeared to have been killed overnight after being brought by car to an area near the main highway running from Baghdad to the southern provinces, about 25 km southeast of the city of Hilla.
The identity and sectarian affiliation of the dead people was not immediately clear, he said.
The dead were all men between the ages of 25 and 40, and it appeared they had been killed a few days earlier and then dumped in the remote area, said a local police officer and a medical official. Most of the bodies had bullet wounds in either the head or the chest, they said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Sunni militants have been carrying out attacks around the southern rim of Baghdad since spring.
In response, Shiite militias have been active in rural districts of Baghdad, abducting Sunnis they suspect of terrorism, many of whom later turn up dead.
The tit-for-tat attacks have escalated dramatically since Sunni Islamist fighters seized control of large parts of northern and western Iraq last month, sweeping toward Baghdad in the most serious challenge to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011.
Mass killings of scores of victims have become a regular occurrence in Iraq for the first time since the worst days of sectarian and ethnic cleansing in 2006-07.
In the following weeks more than 100 Sunni prisoners died in two mass killings while in government custody. The Shiite-led government officially says they were killed in crossfires when their guards came under attack, first in a jail in Baqouba, north of Baghdad, and then in a convoy moving prisoners from Hilla. Sunni leaders say the prisoners were executed by their guards.
Amnesty International and the U.N. have reported several other suspected incidents of mass killings of prisoners in government custody.
The fighting between ISIS, backed by other armed Sunni groups, and the army backed by Shiite militias, threatens to split the country.
The renewed sectarian war has brought violence to levels unseen since the very worst few months of the fighting that followed the U.S. invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Abductions have also increased. On Friday, 17 Sunnis were taken from the Musayyib area and briefly held by security forces and Shiite militia, a local tribal leader said, while a prominent sheikh was also kidnapped by unidentified men.
In fighting northeast of Baghdad Wednesday, militants took control of the town of Sudor as well as a local dam in fighting which killed four soldiers and wounded six others, a source at the local Al-Zahra hospital said.
Also in Diyala, nine soldiers were killed and 38 were wounded as they repulsed an attack by the Islamic State fighters on the Mansuriya military base Wednesday, police and hospital sources said.
In the Zaiyouna district of eastern Baghdad, gunmen stormed the house of a government official, beheading his son and shooting dead his wife, a security source and a source in the Baghdad morgue said.