Iraqi police found 53 civilian corpses bearing gunshot wounds in a predominantly Shiite town 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the holy city of Karbala, in executions reminiscent of those that took place during the height of the civil war eight years ago.
The bodies were found with their hands tied and gunshot wounds to the chest or head in the Jurf Al-Sakhar district of al-Khamisiya, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital, Colonel Muthana Ahmen, a spokesman for the Babil provincial police, said by phone.
Local police also said today that two separate car bombings in Hilla killed two people and wounded 13 others.
Violence has intensified since an al-Qaeda offshoot seized northern cities in June, vowing to target Shiites, their shrines and kill those who try to stop the expansion of their Islamic State. Amid the guerrilla offensive, some Sunni tribesmen have taken up arms against the Shiite-led government they say treats their community unfairly. Parliament broke up earlier this month after failing to end a deadlock over who will lead Iraq following elections in April, deepening the crisis.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on July 4 he won’t withdraw his bid to serve a third term, even amid domestic and international calls for him to do so. Sunni tribal leaders have said they won’t put down their arms until Maliki goes.
In his weekly address to the nation today, the prime minister said he has taken “all necessary means to protect Iraq” and promised to liberate the territory the militants claim as their self-proclaimed Islamic State.
After melting away in the first days of the offensive, the Iraqi army has regrouped, and is conducting air-strikes on al-Qaim near the border with Syria, where the militants also control territory, and is trying to take back Tikrit.
Maliki also accused political leaders in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in the north, with whom he has had disagreements over the sharing of oil revenues, of providing a sanctuary to anti-government forces, including fighters from the Islamic State.
“Erbil can not serve as a base for the operations of ISIL, al-Qaeda and terrorists,” he said. “Close this operation room, get rid of the agents and insolent criminals.”
Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the KRG’s department of foreign relations says the region has always stood against terror and repeated calls for a new government.
“We feel sorry for such statements,” he said by phone. “We hope all leaders in Baghdad move to prepare for a peaceful handover of power to bring a new government in Baghdad.”
The bodies of the 53 men found in Jurf Al-Sakhar were dumped in orchards and they had been killed at least a week ago, Agence France-Presse said. Ahmen, the Babil police spokesman, said Iraqi forces are trying to take back the area from the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL
“We have found many weapons caches for them and their flags,” he said, adding that five soldiers died in fighting last night.