ISIS (Daesh) has released disturbing images purporting to show the bodies of men hanging from the entrance of a district overrun by the extremist group in Iraq.
ISIS militants have been reinforcing their positions in the area after Iraqi government forces and militia launched a military offensive to reclaim Tikrit, which was captured by militants in June last year.
Hawija, a majority Sunni district in Kirkuk province, was overrun by ISIS fighters in June.
Distressing images show the deceased men, some of whom appear to be dressed in military garb, hanging upside down from a checkpoint covered by an ISIS flag.
Hawija is also where ISIS paraded captured Kurdish soldiers in cages and threatened to burn them alive, in scenes reminiscent of the burning alive of Jordanian pilot First Lieutenant Muath al-Kasaesbeh.
There have been conflicting accounts of what the photos actually depict, but one thing that has become overwhelmingly clear is that ISIS supporters themselves appear increasingly unable to agree on their own propaganda.
Elijah. J Magnier, Al Rai's chief correspondent, said the bodies were more likely to be of ISIS fighters who fled the battlefield in Tikrit and were executed as a punishment, a claim made by some ISIS supporters on social media. Meanwhile, other ISIS-affiliated accounts said it showed executed militants who had been accused of spying for the enemy – a claim Mr Magnier dismissed as improbable.
He said one picture being circulated showed a foreign fighter believed to be Abu Al-Rahman standing in front of bodies, with “these are rafidah of militia and government forces" written across it in Arabic.
A picture of the executed men with Arabic across it “You have a small number of real ISIS fighters and core ISIS officials on social media and thousands of ISIS supporters who repeat anything,” Mr Magnier told The Independent.
It is not known when the pictures were taken, which began circulating on 4 March, although Mr Magnier said he believed the images were new.
Sajad Javid, Research Fellow and Associate Member at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform, said he has seen both claims on social media.
“It is most likely that they are either Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) peshmerga or local Sunnis accused of working for the ISF, but there have been several reports in the Iraqi press that they are also killing their own guys who fled from Tikrit,” he said.
Mr Javid said ISIS would be keen to encourage the circulation of such pictures in order to detract from the group’s losses on the ground in territories under its control.
By Heather Saul
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