BAGHDAD: Residents of a town north of Baghdad found 12 corpses with execution-style bullet wounds yesterday following fighting between rival Sunni insurgents that could eventually unravel a coalition which has seized much of northern and western Iraq.
The incident points to an intensification of infighting between the Islamic State and other Sunni groups, such as supporters of former dictator Saddam Hussein, which rallied behind the Al Qaeda offshoot last month because of shared hatred for the Shia-led Iraqi government.
Police in Muqdadiya, a town 80 km northeast of the capital, said residents from the nearby town of Saadiya found the 12 corpses yesterday after fighting overnight between Islamic State fighters and the Naqshbandi Army, a group led by Saddam allies.
Since the Islamic State swept through Iraqi cities and proclaimed its leader caliph of all Muslims last month, there have been increasing signs of conflict with other Sunni groups which do not necessarily share its rejection of Iraq’s borders or its severe interpretation of Islam.
Saadiya, a mostly Sunni town, was overrun by Islamic State militants on June 10, the same day the city of Mosul fell to the insurgents. It is in Diyala, a mainly rural province where lush irrigated fields have long sheltered armed groups that resent the arrival of outsiders.
Residents say the town is a stronghold of Naqshbandi Army fighters who supported the Islamic State when it swept into the area, but have since clashed with the group.
A doctor in the Baquba morgue, where the corpses were taken, said the men all bore bullet wounds to their heads and chest, though there was no sign of torture. He said the men had been dead no more than 24 hours.
The people who found the bodies said the men were Naqshbandi fighters in their 20s and 30s, and blamed the Islamic State for the execution-style killings. The Saadiya residents brought the corpses to police in Muqdadiya because the police in their town fled on June 10 when the insurgents swept in.
Local government official Ahmad Al Zarghosi, who also fled, said that he estimated 90 percent of the town had left for the north. Zarghosi, speaking from the town of Khanaqin, said fighting had been raging for a week between Naqshbandi locals and the Islamic State militants.
Though local people said the Naqshbandi Army enjoys strong support in Saadiya, the Islamist militants are far better equipped. They have been seen with heavy weapons and military vehicles including Humvees in towns they seized last month, equipment apparently taken from the army.
The bodies of three Sunni men arrested on Sunday in Muqdadiya on terrorism charges by Iraqi SWAT forces turned up dead in the town of Abu Saida 10 km away, police said. A morgue official in Baquba said the men had been shot in the head and chest.
In the Kurdish controlled-town of Qara Tippa near the Iranian border, two members of Kurdish peshmerga forces were killed and five others wounded when a suicide bomb attack hit their local headquarters.
In Baghdad, three separate explosions occurred before nightfall yesterday, killing at least eight people and wounding more than 20.