Iraqi officials discovered 50 bodies, many of them blindfolded and with their hands bound, in an agricultural area outside a city south of Baghdad on Wednesday, raising concerns over a possible sectarian killing amid the battle against a Sunni insurgency.
(What is ISIL and what do they want in Iraq? Read The Globe's easy explanation)
Military spokesman Brigadier-General Saad Maan Ibrahim said the bodies had gunshot wounds and were found south of the city of Hillah, a predominantly Shia city about 95 kilometres south of Baghdad. He said an investigation was underway.
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. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
While the motives remain unclear, such grisly killings harken back to the worst days of Iraq's sectarian bloodletting in 2006 and 2007. At that time, with a Sunni insurgency raging, Shia militias and Sunni militant groups were notorious for slayings of members of the other sect, and bodies were frequently dumped along roadsides, in empty lots, ditches and canals.
(Learn more about the Shia-Sunni divide and Iraq's deadly sectarian war with The Globe's easy explanation)
MUTHANNA: ISIL SEIZES FORMER CHEMICAL-WEAPONS SITE
ISIL has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, where remnants of 2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled decades ago with the deadly nerve agent sarin are stored along with other chemical warfare agents, Iraq said in a letter circulated Tuesday at the United Nations.
Iraq's UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a letter that "armed terrorist groups" entered the Muthanna site on June 11, detained officers and soldiers from the protection force guarding the facilities and seized their weapons. The following morning, the project manager spotted the looting of some equipment via the camera surveillance system before the "terrorists" disabled it, he said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki expressed concern on June 20 about ISIL seizing the complex, but played down the importance of the two bunkers with "degraded chemical remnants," saying the material dates back to the 1980s and was stored after being dismantled by UN inspectors in the 1990s. She said the remnants "don't include intact chemical weapons ... and would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely use this for military purposes or, frankly, to move it."
KURDS: KURDISH TERRITORY A HAVEN FOR MILITANTS, AL-MALIKI SAYS
Iraq's prime minister has accused the largely autonomous northern Kurdish region of being a haven for the Islamic extremists and other Sunni militants that have overrun much of the country over the past month.
Nouri al-Maliki's comments are likely to cause tensions to spike in the central government's already testy relationship with the Kurdish self-rule region. He did not elaborate on his allegations or provide any evidence to back them up.
The Kurdish security force known as the peshmerga has clashed repeatedly with the Sunni militants led by the Islamic State extremist group in recent weeks. Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled to the Kurdish-controlled areas to escape the militant onslaught.