Militant group ISIS posted photos online that appear to show its fighters shooting dead dozens of captured Iraqi soldiers in a province north of the capital Baghdad. Associated Press
Reports of Islamic militants massacring scores of captured Iraqi soldiers are "deeply disturbing" and those responsible for it must be brought to justice, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday.
The UN chief warned against sectarian rhetoric in Iraq that could inflame the conflict and carry grave implications for the entire region.
He said he welcomed the statement on the need for unity in Iraq made by Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali Al-Sistani, who he said "represents a deeply influential voice of wisdom and reason."
The Islamic militants who overran cities and towns in Iraq last week have posted graphic photos on a militant website that appear to show masked fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, loading the captives onto flatbed trucks before forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs. The final images show the bodies of the captives soaked in blood after being shot at several locations.
Iraq's chief military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, confirmed the photos' authenticity Sunday and said he was aware of cases of mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas held by ISIL.
"Reports of mass summary executions by ISIS are deeply disturbing and underscore the urgency of bringing the perpetrators of such crimes to justice," Ban said.
He also called on all Iraqi leaders across the spectrum of political, military, religious and community posts to ensure that their followers avoid acts of reprisal.
Ban urged the international community to unite in showing solidarity with Iraq as it confronts "this serious security challenge" and called for full respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in efforts to counter terrorism and violence in Iraq.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned Friday against "murder of all kinds" and other war crimes in Iraq, saying the number killed in recent days may run into the hundreds.
Canada's charge d'affaires leaves Iraq
Meanwhile, a Foreign Affairs spokesman says security concerns forced Canada's acting charge d'affaires to leave Iraq yesterday.
John Babcock says the government will now be reassessing its diplomatic presence in Iraq on a daily basis.
Foreign Affairs earlier issued an advisory against all travel to Iraq, warning the situation there is growing increasingly dangerous and unpredictable.
Al-Qaeda-inspired militants captured the key cities of Mosul and Tikrit last week and say Baghdad is their next target.
Babcock said in an email to The Canadian Press Sunday night that the security of Canadian officials abroad is a top priority.
Canada's embassy to Iraq and Jordan is based in the Jordanian capital Amman.
Washington, meantime, has moved some U.S. embassy staff out of Baghdad, and has also deployed three war ships, including an aircraft carrier, to the Persian Gulf to protect American interests in Iraq.
Sunni militants capture northern Iraqi town
Sunni militants captured the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar early on Monday, its mayor and residents said, the latest blow to the nation's Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory in the country's north.
The town, with a population of some 200,000 people, mostly ethnic Shia and Sunni Turkomen, was taken just before dawn, Mayor Abdulal Abdoul told The Associated Press.
The ethnic mix of Tal Afar, 420 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, raises the grim spectre of large-scale atrocities by Sunni militants of the or ISIL.
A Tal Afar resident reached by phone confirmed the town's fall and said militants in pickup trucks mounted with machine guns and flying black jihadi banners were roaming the streets as gunfire rang out.
The local security force left the town before dawn, said Hadeer al-Abadi, who spoke to the AP as he prepared to head out of town with his family. Local tribesmen who continued to fight later surrendered to the militants, he said.
"Residents are gripped by fear and most of them have already left the town to areas held by Kurdish security forces," said al-Abadi.
The fall of Tal Afar comes a week after Sunni militants captured Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit in a lightening offensive. The town is some 150 kilometres from the border with Syria, where ISIS is fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government and controls territory abutting the Iraqi border.
The capture of Tal Afar came just hours after Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, addressing volunteers joining the security forces, vowed to recapture every inch of territory taken by the militants.
"We will march and liberate every inch they defaced, from the country's northernmost point to the southernmost point," al-Maliki said. The volunteers responded with Shia chants.
Fighting in Tal Afar began on Sunday, with Iraqi government officials saying that ISIS fighters were firing rockets seized from military arms depots in the Mosul area. They said the local garrison suffered heavy casualties and the main hospital was unable to cope with the wounded, without providing exact numbers.