Several days ago we showed “gruesome” footage of the ISIS jihadists as they engage all opposing forces with unspeakable brutality, clearly designed to demoralize any resistance in their remarkable blitzkrieg which has so far allowed them to steamroll virtually unopposed from northern Iraq all the way to towns located some 50 miles from Baghdad.
Just what ISIS/ISIL’s Baghdad strategy is remains unclear. According to Reuters, “in Baghdad on Sunday, a suicide attacker detonated explosives in a vest he was wearing, killing at least nine people and wounding 20 in a crowded street in the centre of the capital, police and medical sources said. At least six people were killed, including three soldiers and three volunteers, when four mortars landed at a recruiting centre in Khlais, 50 km (30 miles) north of Baghdad.”
For now, the southern offensive appears to have been halted with Reuters reporting that “the rapid advance south towards Baghdad appeared to slow over the weekend”, however this has been offset by “fierce fighting in the town of Tal Afar 60 km (40 miles) west of Mosul near the Syrian border.”
Sunday’s fighting in Tal Afar, a majority Turkomen town which is home to both Shi’ites and Sunnis, showed how volatile the deepening sectarian divisions have become.
Residents in Sunni districts accused Shi’ite police and army forces of launching mortar fire at their neighbourhoods, prompting ISIL forces stationed outside the town to move in.
“The situation is disastrous in Tal Afar. There is crazy fighting and most families are trapped inside houses, they can’t leave town,” a local official said. “If the fighting continues, a mass killing among civilians could result.”
More importantly, Iraq’s resistance movements appears to be gathering steam as “volunteers were gathered by army to join fighting to regain control of the northern town of Udhaim from ISIL militants.” As reported last week, the country’s most influential Shi’ite cleric urged his countrymen to take up arms and defend the country against the hardline insurgents, many of whom consider Shi’ites as heretics, resulting in thousands of volunteers.
Which is perhaps why, in order to further demorallize the local population, ISIS militants boasted on Twitter that they had executed 1,700 Iraqi government soldiers, posting gruesome photos to support their claim, the NYT reported.
The authenticity of the photographs and the insurgents’ claim could not be verified, and Iraqi government officials initially cast doubt on whether such a mass execution took place. There were also no reports of large numbers of funerals in the Salahuddin Province area, where the executions were said to have been conducted.
If the claim is true, it would be the worst mass atrocity in either Syria or Iraq in recent years, surpassing even the chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian suburbs of Damascus last year, which killed 1,400 people and were attributed to the Syrian government. Remember that particular attack nearly culminated in a US land invasion of Syria,and led to a US vs Russia standoff in the military with dozens of warships prepared to fire at each other at a moment’s notice.
As the NYT adds, “the latest attack, if proved, would also raise the specter of the war in Iraq turning genocidal, particularly because the insurgents boasted that their victims were all Shiites. There were also fears that it could usher in a series of reprisal killings of Shiites and Sunnis, like those seen in the Iraq war in 2005-7.”
Authentic or not, the disturbing pictures appear to have had an effect with the office of the Shiites’ supreme spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Saturday night issued what amounted to a revision of the ayatollah’s call to arms on Friday, apparently out of concern that it was misinterpreted by many as a call for sectarian warfare. The statement, billed as “clarifying the position on taking up arms,” implored Iraqis, “especially those living in mixed areas, to exert the highest level of self-restraint during this tumultuous period.”
The claim of the mass execution appeared on a Twitter feed previously used for ISIS announcements, so whether or not the executions were genuine, the organization certainly intended to boast of them.
“We’re trying to verify the pics, and I am not convinced they are authentic,” said Erin Evers, the Human Rights Watch researcher in Iraq. “As far as ISIS claiming it has killed 1,700 people and publishing horrific photos to support that claim, it is unfortunately in keeping with their pattern of commission of atrocities, and obviously intended to further fuel sectarian war.”
We find it somewhat ironic that when photos of gruesome execuctions in the middle-east do not support “developed world” interests in the region, they are to be doubted. However, when a YouTube clip appears of a “mass execution” by an “insane dictator”, the US Secretary of State promptly takes it as gospel and is used as a justification for invasion… almost worth a case study in hypocrisy.
So back to the ISIS picture dump:
The still photographs uploaded on the ISIS Twitter feed were bloody and gruesome, showing the insurgents, many wearing black masks, lining up at the edges of what looked like hastily dug mass graves and apparently firing their weapons into groups of young men who were bound and packed closely together in large groups.
The photographs showed at least five massacre sites, with the victims lying in shallow mass graves with their hands tied behind their backs. The number of victims that could be seen in any of the pictures numbered between 20 and 60 in each of the sites, although it was not clear whether the photographs showed the entire graves. Some appeared to be long ditches.
The photographs showed the executioners flying the ISIS black flag, with captions such as “the filthy Shiites are killed in the hundreds,” “The liquidation of the Shiites who ran away from their military bases,” and “This is the destiny of Maliki’s Shiites,” referring to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Many of the captions were viciously mocking toward the purported victims. In one photograph, showing 25 young men walking toward an apparent execution site, where armed, masked men awaited, the caption read, “Look at them walking to death on their own feet.”
And another showed a couple hundred prisoners, all of whom had been made to stand, bent over from the waist with their hands clasped behind their backs, as armed men guarded them. All were in civilian clothes, and the caption claimed they had jettisoned their uniforms. “They were lions in uniform, and now they are just ostriches,” it read.
Other photographs showed prisoners, mostly young men, stuffed in large numbers in dump trucks and pickup trucks. They appeared extremely frightened.
A senior Iraqi government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make press statements, said news of the executions was slow to circulate because Twitter had been blocked. “I don’t doubt they are real, but 1,700 is a big number,” he said. “We are trying to control the reaction. They are trying to bring back the 2005 to 2006 days.” Sunni and Shiite militias engaged in a wave of tit-for-tat killings of civilians during that period, killing tens of thousands.
As a reminder, using social media outlets to display fabricated propaganda in the form of video clips and pictures is nothing new, and the only variable is who benefits. First there was Syria of course, where fake YouTube clips of a chemical attack were used to nearly launch a false flag war. Then it was Egypt, when as we showed before, the Muslim Bortherhood staged a protest crackdown by the military regime in order to shore up popular upport in “The Muslim Brotherhood: The Best Straight-To-YouTube Actors Money Can Buy?”
So is the ISIL al-Qaeda spin off merely the latest entity to use social media propaganda in order to achieve strategic goals, or is the picture dump truly an archive of the gruesome actions the extremist group has conducted in its Iraqi blitzkrieg? We will let readers decide.
Below are some of the images released by ISIS overnight, courtesy of Long War Journal.
WARNING: Many of the images below are graphic and show the execution of Iraqi soldiers. The images are a selection of more than 60 published by the ISIS’ Salahaddin Division. You can view the all of the photographs here.
ISIS fighters move in a convoy in Salahaddin province:
ISIS fighters open fire from a pickup truck as dismounted troops assault a base:
ISIS fighters travel in a captured Iraqi police pickup truck:
A captured American-made Iraqi Army Humvee:
Two ISIS fighters pose with captured military vehicles:
Two ISIS fighters pose over the body of a dead Iraqi soldier:
Iraqi soldiers are herded to a truck to be transported to their execution:
Iraqi soldiers are transported to the execution site:
ISIS fighter opens fire on Iraqi prisoners as they lie in a shallow ditch:
An ISIS fighter holds a US M-16 rifle as captured Iraqi soldiers lie face down on the ground:
An Iraqi soldier wore civilian clothes over his uniform in an attempt to disguise himself:
ISIS fighters form a line and execute the captured Iraqi soldiers: