Iraq on 'high alert' for Ashura as IS executes 100s of Sunni tribespeople
Islamic State militants have carried out a fresh spate of executions in recent days, hitting back hard at Iraqi Sunni tribes that have tried to oppose them, and threatening to kill Shiite pilgrims who are commemorating the religious festival of Ashura today.
On Monday, tribal leader Naim al-Kuoud al-Nimrawi told AFP that IS "executed 36 people, including four women and three children" on Sunday alone. Police Colonel Shaaban al-Obaidi put the number of dead at 50.
Both he and Nimrawi said that hundreds of members of the tribe - known to have up arms against the militants in Iraq's Anbar province - were unaccounted for, with the colonel saying he had received reports that IS had kidnapped 1,000 of them and was executing 50 each day.
But Nimrawi did not confirm they were being held by IS, saying their fate was unknown amid the general chaos and large-scale displacement of people in Anbar.
"We have more than 1,000 people about whom we do not know a thing now," he said.
The tribal chief, however, said the campaign of killings was ongoing. "They issued a fatwa [religious ruling] for executing even infants from the Albu Nimr tribe," he said.
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 IS overran large areas in June as pro-government forces suffered a string of setbacks.
The Islamis State has also issued warnings to Iraq's Shiites, who are marking the religious festival of Ashura on Monday and Tuesday.
With Islamic State militants edging in on the capital Baghdad, Iraq's security forces are now on "full alert". 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.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are expected in Karbala, some 100 km southwest of Baghdad, for the Tuesday peak of Ashura marking the death of Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures.
A roadside bomb in Nahrawan, outside Baghdad, killed at least three people and wounded at least 10 near a tent where Shiites were serving refreshments on the occasion of Ashura on Monday.
It came a day after at least 19 people were killed in blasts targeting Shiites in Baghdad, claimed by IS.
A statement by IS posted on militant websites said "the heroes of Islam" detonated one car bomb in central Baghdad targeting Shiite security personnel and the other in the Shiite-majority Sadr City area in the capital's north.
A third blast struck near a tent in Al-Ilam where Shiites were distributing refreshments, killing at least 13 people, but the IS statement did not mention that attack.
"God permitted his servants the mujahedeen to break all of the alleged [security] plans of the Safavid government that they brag about in their media," the statement said, using a pejorative term for Shiites.
It said the bombings were carried out to coincide with "the greatest of their blasphemous seasons", a reference to Ashura.
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.