Gun-toting children were paraded for the cameras in Iraq yesterday – on both sides of the bloody conflict.
A shocking video emerged showing armed boys watching the execution of a prisoner by masked jihadi fighters.
The children – some as young as eight – look on as a prisoner is made to kneel in the dirt before being shot in the back of the head.
The video of gun-toting children was uploaded on YouTube with the chilling message: ‘Brutal sectarian war has come again to Iraq and many say it’s as bad as in the dark days of 2007.’
It follows two days of sickening propaganda videos posted by ISIS showing their black-uniformed gunmen humiliating, taunting and then executing captured Iraqi soldiers, some apparently shot as they lay in a shallow grave.
The United Nations said yesterday ISIS fighters have carried out hundreds of summary executions since their offensive began last week, including the apparent massacre of captured Iraqi soldiers.
Yesterday as the United States sent 275 soldiers to Baghdad to protect its embassy, insurgents moved closer to the Iraqi capital with an attack on the gateway town of Baquba, 37 miles away, where government troops were said to have ‘stalled’ their advance after being joined in the fight by Shiite militiamen. Dozens were reported to have been killed in the fighting.
At least 44 prisoners held in the town’s police station are said to have been killed although there were conflicting reports of how they died.
Three police officers said Shiite militiamen, who rushed to defend the facility, killed the detainees at close range rather than allow insurgents to be set free but the military spokesman gave a different story, claimed they died when the attackers shelled it with mortar rounds. A third witness said prison guards had carried out the killings.
A mortuary official in Baquba said many of the bodies of detainees had bullet wounds to the head and chest.
The fighters in Baquba, many newly armed with weapons captured in Mosul, have been joined by other Sunni factions, including former members of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and tribal figures, who share widespread anger among Iraq’s Sunni minority at perceived oppression by the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Officials confirmed that the Baiji refinery north of Baghdad had shut down and foreign workers evacuated, although they said government troops still held the vast compound. With the refinery shut, Iraq will face problems generating electricity and pumping water to sustain its cities in summer.
It came as Iraq’s Shi’ite rulers defied Western calls to reach out to Sunnis to defuse the uprising in the north of the country, instead declaring a boycott of Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc and accusing Sunni power Saudi Arabia of promoting ‘genocide.
Washington has made clear it wants Mr Maliki to embrace Sunni politicians as a condition of U.S. support to fight the advance by ISIS forces.
But in what diplomats say is a sign of the problems they face dealing with the Shi’ite prime minister, he has moved in the opposite direction, announcing a crackdown on politicians and officers he considers ‘traitors’ and lashing out at neighbouring Sunni countries for stoking militancy.
The latest target of his government’s fury was Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power in the Gulf, which funds Sunni militants in neighbouring Syria but denies it is behind ISIS.
‘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,’ the Iraqi government said of Riyadh in a statement.
William Hague has announced that Britain’s embassy in Iran will be reopened as the West looks to Tehran to help ease the crisis in neighbouring Iraq.
The Foreign Secretary said the ‘circumstances are right’ to restore the diplomatic base after a significant thawing in relations over recent months.
‘Our two primary concerns when considering whether to reopen our embassy in Tehran have been assurance that our staff would be safe and secure and confidence that they would be able to carry out their functions without hindrance,’ Mr Hague told MPs in a written statement.
‘There has never been any doubt in my mind that we should have an embassy in Tehran if the circumstances allowed.
‘Iran is an important country in a volatile region, and maintaining embassies around the world, even under difficult conditions, is a central pillar of the UK’s global diplomatic approach.
‘I have therefore now decided the circumstances are right to reopen our embassy in Tehran.’
Crisis? What crisis? Iranian President Hassan Rouhani watches Iran secure their first point in the World Cup in last night’s match against Nigeria
The embassy in Iran, which closed in 2011 after hard-liners overran the building and ransacked it, was once described as ‘an oasis of green tranquility in the dusty centre of the teeming Iranian capital’.
Despite the apparent warming of relations, the Foreign Office has advised against travelling to Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, pictured above watching his country’s first match in the World Cup last night, has said that Iran was ready to assist Iraq if the government asked, but no such request has so far been made public.
Some 5,000 Iranians have also pledged online to defend Iraq’s Shiite Muslim holy sites against Sunni extremists who are waging war against the Baghdad government.
The pledges were made on the harimshia.org website, which was launched by a group naming itself the Popular Headquarters for the Defence of Shiite Shrines, the conservative website Tabnak reported.
‘Those who sign up are organised into units… and if the order is given by the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) they will go to Iraq to defend the sites,’ the harimshia.org page said.
PM: WE HAVE TO REOPEN OUR IRANIAN EMBASSY
Britain yesterday signalled an extraordinary U-turn on Iran in a bid to halt the march of jihadi extremists in neighbouring Iraq.
Less than three years after the British embassy in Tehran was ransacked by militants – with the obvious support of the Iranian government – it is to be reopened.
The move is aimed at brokering talks with Iran on helping to combat the threat posed by ISIS fanatics who have swept through northern Iraq.
David Cameron yesterday said Britain remained ‘hard-headed’ over Iran.
The Prime Minister added: ‘Our relationship was at a low point after the appalling things that happened with respect to our embassy, but it is right, step by step with a clear eye with a hard head, to rebuild that relationship.’
Foreign Secretary William Hague said: ‘Iran is an important country in a volatile region, and maintaining embassies around the world, even under difficult conditions, is a central pillar of the UK’s global diplomatic approach.’
The move came as the PM said jihadi fighters returning to the UK posed ‘the most serious threat to Britain’s security’. He added: ‘We will do everything we can to keep our people safe.’
Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd accused Mr Hague of ‘defending the actions of Tony Blair, who took us to war on a tissue of untruths’.
Mr Maliki has blamed Saudi Arabia for supporting militants in the past, but the severe language was unprecedented.
His stance was in defiance too of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who yesterday urged Mr Maliki to hold dialogue to try to stop the sectarian violence, adding that governments who neglect human rights are creating ‘breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism’.
‘There is a real risk of further sectarian violence on a massive scale, within Iraq and beyond its borders,’ he said, ‘I have been urging Iraqi government leaders including Prime Minister al-Maliki to reach out for an inclusive dialogue and solution of this issue.’
UN human rights investigators warned in a report yesterday the Middle East appears on the brink of wider sectarian war engulfing Iraq and Syria with radical Islamist insurgents wantonly kidnapping, torturing and killing civilians ‘A regional war in the Middle East draws ever closer. Events in neighbouring Iraq will have violent repercussions for Syria,’ the investigators’ report said.
UN human rights Navi Pillay said yesterday forces allied with ISIS in northern Iraq had almost certainly committed war crimes by executing hundreds of non-combatant men over the past five days.
A report presented to the UN Human Rights Council said foreign Sunni jihadi militants and funds had poured into Syria where rebel factions including ISIS were wantonly abusing civilians in zones they controlled.
‘Growing numbers of radical fighters are targeting not only Sunni [Muslim] communities under their control but also minority communities including the Shi’ites, Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Kurds,’ the report said of Syria.
Meanwhile, the prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, warned he believes Iraq may not stay together as Sunni areas feel neglected by the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.
He said it would be very hard for Iraq to return to the situation that existed before the Sunni militants, spearheaded by ISIS, took control of the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit in a rapid advance last week, and Tal Afar on Monday.
MID EAST ON BRINK OF SECTARIAN WAR, WARNS UN AS VIDEO SHOWS ISIS JIHADIS EXECUTING SYRIAN PRISONERS
The Middle East appears on the brink of wider sectarian war engulfing Iraq and Syria with radical Islamist insurgents wantonly kidnapping, torturing and killing civilians and security forces, U.N. human rights investigators said today.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is deeply concerned about Iraq’s rapidly deteriorating stability, including reports of mass summary executions.
Those atrocities and terrorist attacks are taking place as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, an Al Qaeda-inspired Sunni Muslim militant group, looks to link areas under its control on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border.
It came as video emerged reportedly showing ISIS militants carrying out the systematic execution of dozens of prisoners in Syria.
The U.N. said forces allied with ISIL had almost certainly committed war crimes by executing hundreds of non-combatant men in Iraq over the past five days.
ISIS seeks a caliphate ruled on medieval Sunni Muslim precepts in Iraq and Syria, fighting against both Iraq’s Maliki and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
It considers Shi’ites heretics as deserving of death and has boasted of massacring hundreds of Iraqi troops who surrendered to it last week.
‘There is a real risk of further sectarian violence on a massive scale, within Iraq and beyond its borders,’ Ban told reporters.
He said all Iraqi leaders – political, military, religious and community – must ‘ensure that their followers avoid acts of reprisal’ and together head off more conflict.
On brink of sectarian war: The UN said atrocities are taking place as ISIS looks to link areas under its control on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border
He said he has been urging Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government to take a more inclusive approach.
‘The Iraqi government should have one state. Whether it is Sunni, Shiite or Kurds, they should be able to harmoniously live together,’ Ban said.
‘I hope that with the strong support of regional countries and the international community in a broader sense, we will be able to help the Iraq government first of all to restore peace and stability in their country.’
Ban said governments that allow human right rights abuses become ‘breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.’
JORDAN RELEASES AL QAEDA CHIEF’S MENTOR AFTER THREE-YEAR SENTENCE FOR RECRUITING TALIBAN FIGHTERS
Jordan released a leading jihadist ideologist who was once mentor Al Qaeda’s infamous Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after he completed a jail sentence for recruiting fighters for the Taliban, his lawyer said.
Issam Barqawi, known as Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi, ‘was released from jail today and he is with his family now,’ lawyer Majed Leftawi told AFP.
One of Maqdessi’s brothers said he had ‘just arrived home’.
Maqdessi was jailed in 2011 for ‘recruiting people in Jordan to join the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as terrorist organisations.’
Jihadist Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi is embraced by guests at his home in Yajuz, Jordan, after serving his sentence for recruiting fighters for the Taliban
He was also found guilty of ‘collecting funds for terrorist groups to carry out acts that would harm Jordan and its ties with other countries.’
Maqdessi was a spiritual mentor to Zarqawi before the two men fell out.
Zarqawi achieved notoriety for a spate of videotaped executions of Western hostages in Iraq before his death in in a U.S. air strike northeast of Baghdad in 2006.
Terror chief: Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi (pictured, right, talking to son of radical cleric Abu Qatada), once mentored Al Qaeda’s infamous Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
In 1992, Jordanian-born Zarqawi met Maqdessi and later joined his Sunni militant group Jaish Mohammed (Mohammed’s Army).
The pair was detained in Jordan for five years for membership of an outlawed Islamist organisation but freed as part of a general amnesty in 1999.
The two later fell out over ‘ideological differences’ and aides said Maqdessi repeatedly denounced Zarqawi.
Maqdessi was arrested again in Jordan in 2005 after remarks he made to Al-Jazeera television, but was released in 2008 for ‘humanitarian reasons’ after going on hunger strike.
Line-up: Isis militants with captured Iraqi soldiers wearing plain clothes after taking over a base in Tikrit, Iraq
Piled up: An extremist gestures towards massed bodies seconds before they are killed. The UN has roundly condemned ISIS’s actions
Firing squad: Amassed jihadists appear to be just about to open fire on the bodies, who are arranged in a shallow ditch
‘WAITING OUR MISERABLE DESTINY WHILE ISIS PROGRESSES TOWARDS BAGHDAD!’ HOW IRAQIS ARE TAKING TO WHISPER APP TO ANONYMOUSLY EXPRESS FEAR OF INSURGENCY
Iraqis are increasingly turning to an app that allows them to post their stories and fears of the insurgency anonymously after a crackdown by the government on social media.
Iraqi authorities appear to be trying to limit online sharing of brutal images, videos and other militant propaganda being shared online.
Martin Frank, the CEO of IQ Networks, an Internet service provider in Iraq, revealed that the authorities have ordered multiple social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, to be blocked.
But Neetzan Zimmerman, the editor-in-chief of anonymous app, Whisper, told CNN Money that usage in Iraq had doubled between June 12 and June 15.
Among the ‘whispers’ posted on the app included one that read: ‘Waiting our miserable destiny while ISIS progressing towards Baghdad!!!!!’
Mr Zimmerman said the app respects the user’s anonymity, but could be used to determine their location within a one-mile radius.
On Sunday, Iraqi authorities tightened restrictions further by telling network operators to halt traffic for virtual private networks, which allow users to bypass Internet filters.
As well as trying to prevent citizens from seeing the material, it is hoped the web blackout will hinder militants’ ability to upload it in the first place.
Internet traffic in several areas overrun by militants, including Mosul and Tikrit, was reportedly cut off altogether – with no time frame for bringing it back.
‘SEE YOU IN NEW YORK’: HOW CONFIDENT ISIS LEADER SAID GOODBYE TO GUARDS AS HE WAS RELEASED FROM U.S. PRISON CAMP IN IRAQ FIVE YEARS AGO
Confident: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued a veiled threat about coming to America as he was released from a U.S.-run prison, it has emerged
The feared and mysterious leader, of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said ‘I’ll see you guys in New York’ as he was released from U.S. captivity in 2009, a military figure has revealed.
al-Baghdadi – who has been dubbed ‘more violent and anti-American than Osama bin Laden’ – made the unlikely threat as he was releasing from Camp Bucca in Iraq in 2009, according to Colonel Kenneth King, who was the camp’s commander.
He said the words were directed at U.S. soldiers whom al-Baghdadi knew came from New York.
Colonel King also revealed his surprise at the jihadist’s success, given that he was not an obvious leader during his years of incarceration.
Speaking to the Daily Beast, he said: ‘I’m not surprised that it was someone who spent time in Bucca but I’m a little surprised it was him,” King says. “He was a bad dude, but he wasn’t the worst of the worst.
‘The worst of the worst were kept in one area- ‘I don’t recall him being in that group.’ But another officer added: ‘A lot of times, the really bad guys tended to operate behind the scenes because they wanted to be invisible’.
The ISIS leader, who was born in 1971 in Baghdad, is touted as a battlefield commander and tactician. Baghdadi, who has a degrees in Islamic studies, apparently joined the insurgency that erupted in Iraq soon after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
He is known as ‘The Ghost’ to members of the pro-Assad Lebanese Shi-ite militia Hizballah. ‘Only a few people know the face of Baghdadi,’ Sheik Ahmad, the Hizballah official in charge of investigating ISIS in Syria, told TIME last year.
The secretive Baghdadi talks with a scarf covering his face even when dealing with close allies, according to militants who worked with him in Iraq. He addresses his ISIS followers through audio recordings posted to the internet, rather than in public places. In October 2005, American forces said they believed they had killed him in a strike on the Iraq-Syria border
In October 2011, the U.S. Treasury designated him as a ‘terrorist’ in a notice that said he was born in the Iraqi city of Samarra in 1971.