Iraq crisis: Villagers sprayed with bullets as they fled black flags of Isis

As Iraqis bury the dead in mass graves, survivors tell of a sectarian massacre

Taza

Villagers lowered the bodies into a mass grave. Two of the 15 dead were young girls, the rest were men.

All had been executed at point-blank range by al-Qa’ida-inspired rebels and their allies, during what witnesses say was an attack aimed at destroying four Shia Turkmen communities in Iraq.

In the villages south of Kirkuk, residents say a massacre was carried out last week by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

Amid a rising tide of sectarian violence – including reports of beheadings and executions of religious leaders, civilians and security forces – residents of the string of Shia villages detailed Isis fighters’ brutality since the capture of Mosul, in the north, two weeks ago. As the insurgents swept toward the south and west, among those caught in their crosshairs were Iraq’s Turkmens, a minority in a mostly Arab nation, speaking a language that derives from Turkish. It was not yet clear how many people were killed in the attack on the four farming villages.

General Turhan Abdel-Rahman, Kirkuk’s deputy police chief, said he knew of at least 40 residents – 25 from three villages who were buried on Sunday, plus 15 interred on Monday, who were from the fourth town, Bashir. “There are other bodies still inside Bashir,” he said. Scores of people remain missing and thousands have fled to nearby Shia communities. Among those who have stayed, survivors told of civilians being shot dead without reason. Askar Hassan of the Shia Turkmen village of Brawawchli said the first attack had occurred on 17 June, when many of the town’s residents were sleeping in the midday heat.

First, shells began to crash into the village. Then he heard gunfire. Mr Hassan and his family ran into a nearby field of date palms. As they ran, a group of men sprayed the fleeing villagers with bullets.

Mr Hassan said he saw his cousin drop from a gunshot before he felt a bullet pierce his own side, sending him to the ground. “Pretend to be dead,” he told his wife and four children as they fell around him. Two of the children had also been shot, he added.

 

Within moments, the militants had reached them. “God is great!” they shouted, but they moved past his family members, who were lying still, Mr Hassan said. The family remained on the ground for hours, he said. After nightfall, the militants appeared to have withdrawn, so he and his wife gathered the children and made it back into the town, where they found a car and drove to a nearby hospital.

Hundreds of families who escaped the villages of Brawawchli, Karanaz, Chardaghli and Bashir have arrived at the Shia Turkmen neighbourhood in Kirkuk, which is under the control of Iraqi Kurdish security forces. About 400 families, numbering thousands of people, have been “registered” in the neighbourhood of Wasiti, a self-appointed organiser for the displaced said. But there are thought to be around 4,000 families in all affected by the violence.

Ali, an 18-year-old from Brawawchli, recalled the shelling that signalled the start of the attack. He said he and other  villagers grabbed guns and scrambled on to roofs to fire back at the militants. “But we didn’t see the snipers,” Ali said. When the bullets started flying amid the shelling, his friend was shot in the neck and Ali ran.

Residents described seeing Humvees and trucks mounted with machine guns and bearing black flags descend on their towns. Isis rebels have seized the vehicles and other equipment from the Iraqi army as they have overrun military positions in the past two weeks.

A few hundred residents of Bashir, most of them men, gathered on Monday morning at a cemetery in the neighbouring Shia Turkmen village of Taza. At the cemetery, the mourners gathered around a huge hole, where 15 bodies were lowered into the ground, side by side. The sound of exploding mortar shells reverberated in the distance as a bulldozer shovelled dirt into the grave. A local Sunni tribal leader had persuaded the Isis jihadists now occupying Bashir to dump the 15 bodies on a road outside the village after they had begun to decompose in the hot sun.

A small group of women cloaked in black, their faces clouded by tears, stood to one side. The dead girls were sisters, Nargis and Massouma Qassim Ibrahim, aged 10 and 13. “My brother’s girls,” one woman said. Their father escaped, she added. Their mother and a third sister are still missing. “Please tell the world,” one man said. “It was a savage massacre.”

© Washington Post

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