ISIS militants executed up to 770 Iraqi troops in Tikrit – report

Iraqi Shiite militia fighters fire a rocket at Islamic State (IS) militant positions at Sayed Hassan village outside the city of Tikrit on September 3, 2014. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)
Islamic State militants killed up to 770 captured Iraqi soldiers after they captured a former US military base in Tikrit back in June, a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

Three new mass execution sites have been discovered at the Camp Speicher air base near the Iraqi city of Tikrit, the international human rights group HRW stated in itsreport, bringing the total number of sites to five.

According to HRW, the massacres were carried out by militants of the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL) following the siege of the city, located about 190 kilometers north of Baghdad.

The report states that the hardline Islamist group killed anywhere between 560 and 770 men during the slaughter, most of them believed to be Iraqi security forces serving at the former US base.

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The shocking executions were assessed by HRW advisor Fred Abrahams as “crimes against humanity,” the AP reported.

Previously, HRW estimated the death toll to be somewhere between 160 and 190 people, who were killed over the period of June 11 to June 14. In spite of the new findings, the group believes the numbers are probably going to rise further as it keeps gathering evidence and analyzing satellite imagery.

For its part, the self-proclaimed Islamic State said it executed 1,700 “Shia members of the army” after its takeover of Tikrit. The group also posted videos of the men as well as photos depicting them lying in trenches with their hands tied. Some pictures showed militants shooting at the men.

“Another piece of this gruesome puzzle has come into place, with many more executions now confirmed,” HRW emergencies director Peter Bouckaert said. “The barbarity of the Islamic State violates the law and grossly offends the conscience.”

Iraqi Shiite militia fighters ride in an armoured personnel carrier (APC) after pushing back Islamic State (IS) militants on September 3, 2014, on the road between Amerli and Tikrit. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

The mass killing has also sparked outrage among the victims’ families, many of whom have criticized the Iraqi government’s alleged mishandling of the situation. As noted by AP, allegations surfaced that soldiers were told to abandon Camp Speicher in civilian clothing, so as to dodge being detected by their enemies. As hundreds of soldiers were leaving, they fell into the hands of ISIS militants.

During an Iraqi parliamentary session on Wednesday, this account was echoed by a massacre survivor Thaer Abdul-Karim, who said the military ordered all soldiers to leave and turn over their weapons, since transport vehicles would be waiting to move them near Baghdad. Instead, they were met by Islamic State forces, which then started shooting at them by the dozens.

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Acting Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi denied these accounts, claiming that no orders were ever given to abandon the facility.

Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated that numerous militants responsible for the massacre have been apprehended or killed, and that further action is underway to catch the others. Nonetheless, the UN’s Iraq envoy urged the government to conduct its own public and independent investigation into the incident.

The Islamic State began attracting worldwide attention this summer as it made rapid territorial gains in western and northern Iraq, threatening religious and ethnic minorities with death unless they converted to their extreme brand of Islam. Their success triggered renewed military action by the US in the form of airstrikes and the deployment of military advisors. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced 350 additional troops would be sent to Iraq to bolster diplomatic security.