Prisoners shot in back after they're freed from jail
Iraqi forces blamed for sectarian killings
Shia-led forces were last night accused of a sectarian massacre at an Iraqi prison in apparent retaliation for killings by Sunni jihadists sweeping through the country.
Relations and survivors of a battle between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and government forces defending the city of Baquba, north of Baghdad, said scores of Sunni prisoners were killed after being told they could flee.
The cousin of two of the men said to have been shot in the back said: "I am told their bodies have been burned. The prison is run by the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Unit – the special forces.
"Suddenly the prisoners were told they would be free to go and they opened the doors.
"The security guards wanted to show that the prisoners had fled. Once they were running out of the prison they shot them in their backs."
He said he had been told the information by a friend who was injured but managed to escape. An Iraqi army spokes-man confirmed that 52 prisoners had died, but said they had been killed by ISIS shelling as they attacked the jail in an attempt to free inmates.
An Iraqi intelligence officer, speaking anonymously, said he had been told that the men had been shot because they were Sunni extremists. "They killed the Sunni extremist prisoners," he said. "When Shia officers and police heard that ISIS was coming they executed them."
Another report, which gave the number of dead as 44, said that the special forces arrived and told the police to leave. The police found the bodies when they returned.
There is no confirmation of the total figure, which could be an attempt to terrorise the Shia community and its members in the armed forces into submission. Photographs posted online at the weekend showed scores of men being lined up and shot.
Also yesterday, in Baghdad, the bullet-riddled bodies of four men in their early 30s, presumably Sunnis, were found at different locations in the Shia neighborhood of Benouk, while a car bomb in Iraqi capital's Shia Sadr City district killed 12 people and wounded 30 in a crowded outdoor market.
The sectarian nature of the fighting is a microcosm of the religious hatred across the region. Many Sunni countries, themselves fearful of jihadism, have blamed the uprising on the Shia-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, and alienation felt by many of the former ruling Sunni minority caused by discriminatory policies towards them during the eight years of his rule.
In return, the Iraqi cabinet unleashed a fierce volley at Saudi Arabia, the official state religion of which is Sunni, which it accuses of funding and supporting the insurgency.
"We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that – which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites," it said.
The argument between two governments formally allied to the US, in Baghdad and Riyadh, is testing the Obama administration, which has still not decided whether to launch air strikes to attempt to halt the jihadist advance. It deployed 175 troops to defend the embassy in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the jihadists were surrounding Iraq's largest oil refinery, forcing its closure. Officials confirmed that a unit of the Iraqi army was defending the plant at Baiji, north of Tikrit, but were surrounded by the opposing forces, made up of a mixture of Islamist extremists and their local Sunni allies. (© Daily Telegraph, London)