Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has called for the “immediate” execution of all convicted “terrorists” on death row after the bodies of eight members of the country’s security forces thought to have killed by ISIS were found earlier this week.
Abadi ordered “the immediate implementation of the fair punishment of terrorists condemned to death whose sentences have passed the decisive stage,” his office said in a statement Thursday.
Hundreds of prisoners have been sentenced to death by Iraqi courts since Mosul and the surrounding area were reclaimed from ISIS, Reuters reported in April.
“The statistics coming from the criminal courts show that 815 people have gone on trial and that 212 were sentenced to death. A further 150 were sentenced to life in prison,” Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, a judiciary spokesman, told the news agency at the time.
“The vast majority of these rulings were against elements of the Islamic State terrorist organisation who were proven to have committed crimes, and came after public trials conducted in accordance with the law. Defendants were afforded their rights,” Birqdar said.
Following the Prime Minister’s directive, Iraqi officials executed a dozen ISIS members on Thursday, the statement from Abadi’s office added.
“Based on the direction of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, executions were carried out on Thursday on 12 convicted terrorists who have received final verdicts,” the statement read.
The executions came a day after the bodies of eight Iraqi security forces believed to have been killed by ISIS fighters were found on Wednesday.
Amaq, the terror group’s media wing, released a short video Saturday showing six men being held hostage by gunmen, and demanded the release of ISIS female prisoners and leaders from Iraqi jails. In a separate Amaq statement ISIS said they were holding eight men hostage.
The militants in the video gave the Iraqi government a three-day deadline to release the ISIS prisoners and threatened to kill the hostages if their demands were not met.
The killings sparked anger among ordinary Iraqi people, who blamed the government for failing to act quickly.
Abadi visited the headquarters of the Joint Operations Command on Thursday, where he promised swift revenge for the killings.
“This is a very important meeting, first of all we give our condolences to the families of the victims and we give another promise today that we will arrest or kill them, this is a promise ” Abadi said.
The Iraqi PM said early forensic reports indicated the hostages had been killed nearly a week ago, suggesting ISIS lied about the three-day deadline.
ISIS militant groups are still capable of carrying attacks against Iraqi forces and civilians even though Abadi officially declared full liberation of Iraq from ISIS back in December.
Why the West might welcome Abadi’s mighty message: Analysis by Nick Paton Walsh
The tit-for-tat nature of these killings – even though a state executing convicted terrorists can’t be equivocated with terrorists murdering hostages – is an uncomfortable reminder of how the sectarian Sunni-Shia loathing at the heart of the rise of ISIS hasn’t disappeared along with the terror group’s physical “Caliphate.” The Iraqi government’s security force has a strong Shia element to it and ISIS has always been the ugly voice of disenfranchised Iraqi Sunnis.
Iraq has managed to steer itself reasonably carefully away from an exclusively sectarian outcome to the fight against ISIS. Abadi has clung to the idea of calming sectarian tensions as the best tool to defeat the radicals of ISIS, and looks set to retain power with the help of a powerful Shia – yet Iraqi nationalist – cleric Muqtada al Sadr. But the ability of ISIS to murder hostages in cold blood shows they retain territorial influence and the ability to shock.
The mass execution of dozens of convicted ISIS terrorists sends a powerful signal internally that Abadi intends to finish the ISIS fight, no matter what. While Western human rights advocates may blanch at the swift “justice” of Iraqi courts, where guilty verdicts and sentences are handed out in a matter of hours, it is not unpopular among Iraqis who have endured years of ISIS horrors and war.
Indeed, some of the Iraqi security forces we spoke to during the Mosul offensive hotly debated summarily executing ISIS prisoners they had taken as they feared a corrupt court system could release them to fight the government again.
These potential swift executions pose less of a moral dilemma to the West, frankly. These ISIS fighters are not about to be rehabilitated overnight. Their legal deaths at the hands of one of the only governments in the ISIS war that the West can do business with is frankly a plus for Western security officials keen to stem attacks on the European continent by ISIS stragglers.
While we don’t have a breakdown of who these dozens of death row convicts are, many will be foreign, and given the endless wrangling among NATO allies about how to tackle their citizens who joined ISIS but now languish in Kurdish-run jails in northern Syria, this dirty, yet swift solution may be relatively welcome.