Maliki accuses Kurdish region of harbouring Islamic State militants
BAGHDAD // Iraqi premier Nouri Al Maliki on Wednesday accused the country’s autonomous Kurdish region of harbouring Islamist extremists, further ratcheting up tension despite calls for Iraq’s leaders to unite against a militant offensive.
In scenes reminiscent of the country’s brutal sectarian war of 2006-07, when tens of thousands were killed, the authorities found the bodies of 53 men who had been bound and executed in a confessionally-mixed province south of Baghdad.
The crisis triggered by an offensive led by the Islamic State that started exactly a month ago and soon overran swathes of five provinces north and west of Baghdad, has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and heaped pressure on Mr Al Maliki as he bids for a third term.
The incumbent on Wednesday appeared to damage his efforts to retain his post by turning on Kurdish leaders whose support he needs, accusing them of hosting militant groups behind the onslaught.
“Honestly, we cannot be silent over this and we cannot be silent over Erbil being a headquarters for Daash, and the Baath, and Al Qaeda and terrorist operations,” Maliki said in his weekly televised address.
Daash is the former Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, which Kurdish forces are fighting against in north Iraq, while Baath refers to the banned party of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, whose regime killed tens of thousands of Kurds.
Though Kurdish parliamentary backing is not necessary to form a government, the Kurds are seen as crucial to maintaining a united front against insurgents led by the Islamic State.
Mr Al Maliki’s remarks were the latest example of persistent disunity among Iraq’s politicians despite calls from international powers and influential Iraqi clerics for the country’s leaders to come together.
His comments came as the corpses of 53 men were discovered in orchards south of Babil provincial capital Hilla, all with gunshots to the head and chest.
A morgue official said the victims were killed at least a week ago.
It was not immediately clear why the men were killed, officials said.
Although attacks have taken place in Babil province since the Islamic State-led offensive began, the area where the bodies were found was not close to the sites of other recent violence.
Updated: July 9, 2014 04:00 AM