“It was supposed to be a routine job, police say. Move 69 prisoners from an outlying town to a jail in southern Baghdad.” [Reuters, 27 Jun ‘14]
But those 69 prisoners never reached their destination, they were instead gunned down during a fire fight between the Iraqi army and the insurgent force of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to army spokespeople that is. This is the second such mass killing of army prisoners in the last weeks.
Just 9 days ago Reuters reported that 52 prisoners were found in Baquba, a regional capital north of Baghdad, with “execution-style wounds to the head and chest”. Again, according to the government, the prisoners were said to have been killed by crossfire.
However, according to anonymous sources cited by Reuters, these prisoners were not the victims of stray bullets, but were instead summarily executed by their captors.
In Baquba, the New York Times reported that a source at the morgue said that “many of the victims had been shot to death at close range”.
While in Hilla, a police officer and a senior local official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters, “no attack took place, and the police had executed the 69 men”.
But, in contrast to the claims of mass killings made by ISIL earlier this month, these massacres have yet to be widely reported. This is despite reports by Amnesty International and tweets by Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth.
In the immediate aftermath of the killings there was some media interest, at the time when responsibility was attributed to ISIL. However, since the blame shifted, the interest has quickly waned – save for less than a handful of reports, the first by Reuters (republished by several other news organisations) and then by the New York Times.
Quietly at least, it seems the Iraqi government is sending a message to ISIL that it does not have a monopoly over mass killings.
The New York Times cited these two events as evidence of the return to a “familiar cycle of violence” between Sunni and Shia. At the very same time, evidence of deaths in Baghdad neighbourhoods are said to “fit the pattern of Shiite death squads during the sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007”.
Yet these aren’t the kind of events that form part of the broader narrative.
ISIL are still the only “extremists” in this conflict, while the Iraqi government and military, and the various Shia militias, are constantly said to be engaged in “counteroffensive”, responding to violence, and only engaging in it after their “patience had run out”. These executions, where they are referred to, are branded of a lesser evil than those of the ISIL led insurgency, unhindered by “a raw, sectarian quality“, despite being directed predominantly towards the Sunni minority.