In a video shown to Reuters reporters last week, Iraqi soldiers tied the body of a dead man to the back of a truck and, after taking a few photos and laughing, drove it around the desert streets. “This is very normal,” a police officer told the reporters. “Our guys get killed at the hands of al-Qaeda. Why don’t we do the same to them? This is self-defense.”Iraq’s mostly Shiite military has been involved in a tense standoff with mostly Sunni insurgents in the Iraqi provinces west of Baghdad for months now. Both sides are guilty of extrajudicial killings and torture. Sometimes images and videos of the grisly dealings make their way on to YouTube and Facebook. Militant and civilian Sunnis in Anbar, long a hotbed of extremism, blame the government for “Shiite chauvinism” and escalating sectarian tension. Car bombs and shootouts with the security services have become almost as common as they were during the height of Iraq’s civil war in 2006 and 2007. More civilians were killed in 2013 than in any year since the war began to subside.The Reuters special report on the rising extremism and violence makes for grim reading:
A Special Forces soldier on a break in Baghdad this month showed Reuters images on Facebook that are popular with the Iraqi military. The photos showed what he said were dead ISIL fighters in Ramadi. One was splattered in blood. Slogans boasted that the Iraqi forces had “trampled on ISIL’s sniper rats.”Just back from the front, the soldier – hair dirty, voice tired – used his smartphone to pull up another Facebook picture of a soldier standing over a corpse. The dead man’s body was splayed out in black jeans, his arms stretched above his head in the dirt. A slogan read: “The Golden Division keep trampling them.”“Whoever we capture now as a terrorist we kill him on the spot except for someone we want to investigate,” the soldier said matter-of-factly.“I’ve watched dozens executed.”
The violence “risks turning Iraq’s Sunni region into a permanent battlefield.” Atrocities by both sides are fueling fear and sectarian hatred from Baghdad all the way to the Mediterranean. Fighters from Syria flow into Iraq and vice versa, destabilizing the entire region, and there’s no end in sight.