BAGHDAD — The first signs of sectarian reprisal killings of Sunnis appeared Tuesday in Iraq, as 44 Sunni prisoners were killed in a government-controlled police station in Baqouba, north of Baghdad, and the bodies of four young men who had been shot were found dumped on a street in a Baghdad neighborhood controlled by Shiite militiamen.
A police source in Baqouba said the prisoners were killed after militants who had been advancing on Baqouba attacked the police station, where the men, who were suspected of having ties to the militants, were being held for questioning. “Those people were detainees who were arrested in accordance with Article 4 terrorism offenses,” he said, referring to Iraqi anti-terrorism legislation that gives security forces extraordinary arrest powers. “They were killed inside the jail by the policemen before they withdrew from the station last night.”
Militants aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, on Monday night took several neighborhoods in Baqouba, which is just 44 miles from Baghdad, according to security officials in Baqouba.
Brig. Gen. Jameel Kamal al-Shimmari, the police commander in Baqouba, said officers had repulsed the militants after a three-hour gunbattle. “Everything in the city is now under control, and the groups of armed men are not seen in the city,” Gen. Shimmari said Tuesday.
Officials at the morgue in Baqouba said two policemen had been killed in the fighting.
ISIS claimed in a Twitter post on a feed associated with the militants that the prisoners had been executed by police.
An Iraqi government military spokesman, Gen. Qassim Atta, blamed the deaths in Baqouba on the militants, saying the prisoners died when the station was struck with hand grenades and mortars. But a source at the morgue in Baqouba said many of the victims had been shot to death at close range. Like many of the official sources in Iraq, he spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
In eastern Baghdad, the bodies of four young men were found without identity documents on a street in the Benuk neighborhood Tuesday. They were believed to have been Sunnis, because the area is controlled by Shiite militiamen. The area is largely Shiite but also includes Sunnis, and no one had initially claimed the young men’s bodies, according to a police source in the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad. The victims were between 25 and 30 years old and had been shot numerous times, he said.
The killings fit the pattern of death squads during the sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, at the height of the U.S.-led invasion. Bodies would be dumped in streets and empty lots after execution-style killings, often without identity documents. Many of these extrajudicial killings, as well as kidnappings, were the work of Shiite militias, often in cooperation with the Shiite-dominated police force, although Shiites living in Sunni neighborhoods were killed as well. At the peak of the violence, as many as 80 bodies a day were found in Baghdad and its immediate suburbs.
The fighting in Baqouba was worrying because it represented the closest that ISIS and its allies have come to the capital. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has encouraged what he has said are hundreds of thousands of volunteers — nearly all of them Shiites — to join with Shiite militias in the defense of Iraq against the Sunni extremists.
After capturing Mosul a week ago, ISIS has advanced more than 230 miles, mostly down the valley of the Tigris River toward Baghdad. The militants on Monday also took the northwestern city of Tal Afar, apparently consolidating their gains around Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. On Tuesday, the militants were reported to have attacked the village of Basheer, 9 miles south of Kirkuk, Reuters said.
Angered at what he has called a conspiracy by all of Iraq’s enemies to destroy the country, Mr. Maliki has lashed out at fellow Arab states with Sunni majorities, particularly Saudi Arabia, accusing them of fomenting the insurgency in neighboring Syria that has nourished the growth of ISIS. On Tuesday Mr. Maliki was reported to have dismissed security force commanders whom he blamed for allowing ISIS fighters to seize territory in northern Iraq over the past week.
The Obama administration, increasingly exasperated with Mr. Maliki, took exception Tuesday to his allegation about the Saudis. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki described it as inaccurate and “offensive.”
White House officials also announced that President Barack Obama today would hold a meeting on Iraq with congressional leaders, who are increasingly concerned about the administration’s strategy in dealing with the crisis. Mr. Obama, who declared the Iraq War over when the last U.S. troops left at the end of 2011, has repeatedly said he would not drag the United States into another conflict in the country. But on Monday, he announced that 275 members of the U.S. military were deploying to Iraq to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Mr. Boehner expected Mr. Obama “to offer a coherent strategy to ensure that Iraq does not descend further into lawless barbarism.”United States - North America - United States military - United States government - Middle East - Europe - Barack Obama - Western Europe - John Boehner - Iraq - Ban Ki-Moon - Saudi Arabia - Switzerland - Nouri al-Maliki - Iraq government - Geneva - Baghdad - Lakhdar Brahimi - Iraqi armed forces - Qassim Atta