Humiliated and executed: victims of a firing squad
Video stills show soldiers marching into trenches before being gunned down
Iraq's war of sectarian vengeance has its first pictures of record: images that show Sunni extremist fighters massacring army soldiers.
Posted online by the jihadist group that has taken territory across the country, they show the Shia men being led away and lying in trenches before and after being shot.
Lt Gen Qassim al-Moussawi, the Iraqi military spokesman, said the pictures were authentic and depicted events in Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein.
One shows a crowd of men, hands on head, wearing jeans, flip-flops and Manchester United shirts, being herded into open-topped lorries.
They are ferried out bent double to the palm-lined savannah. By the side of a rough road, they are laid in lines, some in single rows, heads facing directly towards their Kalashnikov-wielding captors, some in shallow graves, others feet-to-shoeless-feet, arms bound at the wrist. The photographs show Kalashnikovs are raised, and clouds of dust rise up from the end of the line.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which released the photographs and claimed to have carried out the killings, are master manipulators of social media and exaggerate their own brutality as part of their propaganda of terror against their enemy.
But the pictures are not doctored and are internally consistent. One of the series shows a government office in Tikrit, one of Salahuddin province's two major cities, with a masked man wielding an ISIS black flag.
The same doomed figures can be identified in several of the pictures, before and after what seems to be their deaths.
There are several individual massacres, which may have been planned at Camp Speicher, just outside Tikrit, once a US military base. It was handed over to the Iraqi military and now, thanks to the army's peremptory flight last week, it is in the hands of the jihadists and their Ba'athist allies, whom the Americans once fought.
"I saw the Speicher base. It is controlled by ISIS," said Tamer Hammoudi (46), a local farmer. "They have thousands of prisoners there, 5,000 prisoners. I saw them being walked into the military base."
From there, the men seem to have been transported to Saddam Hussein's old palace, where the executions took place, according to those who recognised the grounds.
The Twitter account that released the pictures said 1,700 men had died. If true, it would be the biggest single atrocity since the time of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The captions spell out the massacre's purpose.
"This is the fate that awaits the Shia sent by Nouri to fight the Sunnis," one says, a reference to Iraq's Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Another says the killings were revenge for the recent death at the hands of government forces of Abdul-Rahman al-Beilawy, an ISIS leader.
The war for Iraq was consolidating on sectarian lines yesterday, as the army re-established lines north of predominantly Shia Baghdad with the help of experienced local militias and reinforcements sent from Iran.
The government claimed to have retaken towns in the mixed province of Diyala, including Jalawla, where there is also a Kurdish presence. The government also hit back on Tikrit.
Over the weekend, jets bombed Tikrit's Grand Mosque, killing many, residents said. The mosque was being used for a "repentance session" for Sunni soldiers prepared to join up with the rebels, Amal Hamid, a widowed mother of four, added.
The involvement of Shia militia fighters at the front increases the likelihood of mass killings of Sunni. This had started to happen even before the present offensive in Diyala province and at Iskandariya, south-east of Baghdad.
Iraq has effectively broken up as the Kurds take advantage of the collapse of the regular army in the north to take over Kirkuk, northern Diyala and the Nineveh plateau. (© Daily Telegraph, London)