Iraq on 'high alert' amid ISIS attacks, killings

2014-11-03 21:46
FBI image of an English-speaking individual, who was seen in a propaganda video released in September of 2014 by the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (FBI, AFP)

FBI image of an English-speaking individual, who was seen in a propaganda video released in September of 2014 by the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (FBI, AFP)

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Baghdad - Iraq boosted security on Monday amid fears of the Islamic State group launching major attacks on Shi'ite pilgrims flocking to the shrine city of Karbala as further reports emerged of mass killings.

The pilgrims are prime targets for the ISIS jihadists, who have carried out a series of mass executions in recent days, killing scores of members of a tribe in Iraq's western Anbar province.

The jihadists are reported to have slaughtered dozens of members of the Sunni Albu Nimr tribe, which took up arms against them in Anbar.

On Monday, tribal leader Naim al-Kuoud al-Nimrawi told AFP that ISIS "executed 36 people, including four women and three children" on Sunday alone.

Accounts have varied as to the number and timings of the executions, but sources have spoken of more than 200 people murdered in recent days.

A police officer and an official gave figures of more than 200 to 258 people killed, while Iraq's human rights ministry put the toll at 322 and a tribal leader said 381 were executed.

The mass killings appear aimed at discouraging resistance from powerful local tribes in Anbar, where ISIS overran large areas in June as pro-government forces suffered a string of setbacks.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are expected in Karbala for the Tuesday peak of Ashura marking the death of Imam Hussein, one of Shi'ite Islam's most revered figures.

At least 19 people were killed in bomb blasts targeting Shi'ites in Baghdad on Sunday claimed by ISIS, and security forces were on alert for further attacks.

Karbala deputy governor Jassem al-Fatlawi told AFP "hundreds of thousands of Iraqi pilgrims" and 65 000 others from 20 different countries have thronged Karbala.

ISIS calls Shiites 'heretics'

Pilgrims have been targeted during Ashura before, but this year they face even greater danger after the ISIS lightning offensive in June.

Like other Sunni extremists, ISIS considers Shi'ites heretics.

Authorities have deployed thousands of security personnel and allied militiamen to protect the pilgrims, in a major test for the new government headed by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

"The security plan is fully in effect and the security forces are on a state of high alert," an Iraqi police colonel told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Police were deployed throughout Shi'ite districts of Baghdad and security forces are guarding the 100km route from the capital to Karbala.

More than 26 000 members of the security forces were deployed in Karbala itself, backed by helicopters providing air support and monitoring desert areas, army Staff Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanimi told reporters.

Police used X-ray trucks to scan vehicles as sniffer dogs monitored arrivals and some 1 500 policewomen checked female pilgrims.

The Sunni extremist ISIS group has declared a "caliphate" in parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria under its control, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law and committing widespread atrocities.

There are fears that Anbar province, stretching from Iraq's borders with Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the western approach to Baghdad, could fall entirely.

Clashes, strikes in Kobane

A US-led coalition of Western and Arab nations has carried out a wave of air strikes on ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria, with Canadian CF-18s conducting their first raids on Sunday around the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

The Pentagon said its aircraft carried out five strikes on Sunday and Monday around Syria and nine in Iraq.

Singapore said on Monday it would provide military support including a Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker for air-to-air refuelling.

Kurdish militia have been holding off an ISIS offensive on the Syrian border town of Kobane for nearly seven weeks and have been reinforced by about 150 Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters with heavy weapons.

Kobane just across the border from Turkey has become both a key symbol of resistance to the ISIS advance and a rallying point for the jihadist cause.

Over the weekend, the peshmerga targeted ISIS positions with rockets, according to the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian Kurdish militia defending the town.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, reported sporadic clashes at the town.

It said the coalition carried out at least four strikes near Kobane early on Monday and hit a convoy headed to the town from ISIS-controlled Minbej.

The Observatory said 20 jihadists were killed in coalition strikes in Kobane and elsewhere, and that at least four ISIS militants and two YPG fighters died on Sunday.

It also said ISIS beheaded eight Syrian rebels it captured in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and hung their bodies on makeshift crucifixes.

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq

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