Updated: June 18, 2014 9:40:08 am
ALISSA J RUBIN & SUADAD AL-SALHY
The first possible signs of sectarian killings of Sunnis appeared in Iraq on Tuesday, as 44 Sunni prisoners were killed in a government-controlled police station in Baquba, north of Baghdad, and the bodies of four young men were found shot to death and dumped on a street in a Baghdad neighbourhood controlled by Shia militiamen.
A police source in Baquba said the prisoners were killed after militants who had been advancing on Baquba attacked the police station, where the men, who were suspected of having ties to the militants, were being held for questioning.
“Those people were detainees who were arrested in accordance with Article 4 terrorism offences,” he said, referring to Iraqi anti-terrorism legislation that gives security forces extraordinary arrest powers. “They were killed inside the jail by the policemen before they withdrew from the station last night.”
Militants aligned with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, on Monday night took several neighborhoods in Baquba, which is just 44 miles from Baghdad, according to security officials in Baquba.
Brig Gen Jameel Kamal al-Shimmari, police commander in Baquba, said officers had repulsed the militants after a three-hour gun battle. “Everything in the city is now under control, and the groups of armed men are not seen in the city,” General Shimmari said on Tuesday.
ISIL claimed in a Twitter post on a feed associated with the militants that the prisoners were executed by the police.
An Iraqi government military spokesman, Gen Qassim Atta, blamed the prisoner deaths in Baquba on the militants, saying they died when the station was shelled. However, a source at the morgue in Baquba said many of the victims had been shot to death at close range.
In eastern Baghdad, the bodies of four young men were found without identity documents on a street in the Benuk neighbourhood on Tuesday morning. They were believed to have been Sunnis, because the area is controlled by Shia militiamen. The area is largely Shia but also includes Sunnis.
The victims were between 25 and 30 years old and had been shot numerous times, he said.
The killings fit the familiar pattern of death squads during the sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007. Bodies would be dumped in streets and empty lots after execution-style killings, often without identity documents. At the peak of the violence, as many as 80 bodies a day were found in Baghdad and its immediate suburbs.
On Tuesday, the militants were reported to have attacked the village of Basheer, nine miles south of Kirkuk, according to Reuters.
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