Islamic State executes dozens of Sunnis who fought it in Iraqi town

People look at bodies of Sunni fighters after they were shot by a group of gunmen on a main street of the town of Hit, 85 miles (140 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 29, 2014.
People look at bodies of Sunni fighters after they were shot by a group of gunmen on a main street of the town of Hit, 85 miles (140 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 29, 2014. AP

Islamic State gunmen on Wednesday executed more than 40 men from two tribes that had fought unsuccessfully to prevent the extremists from overrunning their city in war-torn Anbar province, according to tribal leaders and Iraqi officials.

The militants also expelled hundreds of elderly people, women and children of the Albu Nimr and Albu Assaf tribes from Hit, a town about 85 miles west of Baghdad, forcing them to walk through the desert toward the city of Haditha, officials and tribal leaders said.

The incident was almost certain to deepen anger against the Shiite Muslim-dominated central government among Sunni Muslim tribes that have been fighting the Islamic State. Tribal leaders charge that Baghdad has ignored their pleas for help to defend their towns and villages.

“This criminal thing is going on and there is a humanitarian disaster and the government doesn’t give us support to prevent this. This is a conspiracy against the province and against the Albu Nimr,” Naim Mohsin al-Goud, an Albu Nimr tribal sheikh, told McClatchy in a telephone interview.

The ire at the government among tribal leaders like al-Goud could undermine a key facet of the Obama administration’s hopes for defeating the Islamic State. That strategy calls for the Iraqi government to enlist tribes such the Albu Nimr, which joined U.S. forces in fighting the Islamic State when it was known as al Qaida in Iraq during the 2003-11 American occupation.

Other Anbar tribes have joined the extremists, who have declared a caliphate on the vast swaths of Iraq and Syria they’ve conquered, seeking vengeance for what they charge has been the persecution and political marginalization of minority Sunnis by Baghdad. About 80 percent of Anbar, Iraq’s largest province, is now controlled by the Islamic State.

The Albu Nimr and other anti-Islamic State tribes fought for four months to prevent the group from overrunning Hit, but the city fell earlier this month, at a time when U.S. airstrikes were concentrated on the northern Syrian city of Kobani.

Al-Goud, who managed to escape last week with hundreds of his followers, said that the extremists shot dead in a city street more than 39 tribesmen captured during the fighting. Most of the dead were members of his tribe, he said, adding that at least 40 other prisoners remain unaccounted for.

Rafid Jabouri, the spokesman of Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, told Alhurra television, a U.S.-funded Arabic-language satellite channel, that more than 40 men were executed.

Photographs of those allegedly killed were posted on Twitter. The pictures showed a long row of bodies, some blindfolded, all with their hands bound behind their backs, lying along a pavement and in the street. A single bullet hole could be seen in some of their heads. Trails of blood soaked into the dust.

Islamic State fighters also blew up homes belonging to tribal leaders and fighters in the al Bakr and Zwiya neighborhoods, and drove hundreds of elderly, women and children into the desert on a 52-mile trek through the desert to Haditha, al-Goud said.

Sabah Karhout, the chairman of the provincial council, confirmed the expulsions on Alhurra.

At least 10 people, including seven children, died on the journey, said al-Goud, but his allegation couldn’t be confirmed.

The Islamic State has massacred hundreds of Sunni opponents, Shiites and members of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities and committed other atrocities since launching a blistering offensive in mid-June that overran the northern city of Mosul and carried its fighters to the approaches of Baghdad.