BAGHDAD: ISIS militants executed at least 220 Iraqis in retaliation against a tribe’s opposition to the jihadist group’s takeover of territory west of Baghdad, security sources and witnesses said.
Two mass graves were discovered Thursday containing some of the 300 members of the Sunni Albu Nimr tribe that ISIS had seized this week. The captives, men aged between 18 and 55, had been shot at close range, witnesses said.
The bodies of more than 70 Albu Nimr men were dumped near the town of Hit in the Sunni heartland Anbar province, according to witnesses who said most of the victims were members of the police or a “Sahwa” anti-ISIS militia.
“Early this morning we found those corpses and we were told by some Islamic State militants that ‘those people are from Sahwa, who fought your brothers the Islamic State, and this is the punishment of anybody fighting Islamic State,’” a witness said, using the jihadist group’s latest name.
The insurgents had ordered men from the tribe to leave their villages and go to Hit, 130 kilometers west of Baghdad, promising them “safe passage,” tribal leaders said. They were then seized and shot.
A mass grave near the city of Ramadi, also in Anbar province, contained 150 members of the same tribe, security officials said.
Sahwa militias were established with the encouragement of the U.S. to fight Al-Qaeda during the U.S. “surge” offensive of 2006-2007.
Washington, which no longer has ground forces in Iraq but is providing air support for Iraqi forces, hopes the government can rebuild the shaky alliance with Sunni tribes, particularly in Anbar which is now mostly under the control of ISIS.
But Sunni tribal leaders complain that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has failed to deliver on promises of weapons to counter ISIS’ machine guns, sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and tanks.
Sheikh Naim al-Gaoud, one of the leaders of the Albu Nimir tribe, said: “The Americans are all talk and no action.”
ISIS was on the march in Anbar this year even before it seized much of northern Iraq in June. As the government and fighters from the autonomous Kurdish region have begun to recapture territory in the north, ISIS has pressed its advances in Anbar, coming closer to Baghdad.
In the north, government forces said they were closing in on the city of Baiji from two sides in an attempt to break ISIS’ siege of Iraq’s biggest refinery. A member of the Iraqi security forces acknowledged that roadside bombs and landmines were slowing the advance.
“Now we are close to the checkpoint of southern Baiji, which means less than 500 meters from the town,” he said, requesting anonymity.
“We haven’t seen strong resistance by [ISIS] but we are stopping every kilometer to defuse landmines.”
His account could not be independently confirmed.
ISIS fighters seized Baiji and surrounded the sprawling refinery in June during a lightning offensive through northern Iraq.