Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) militants have killed 322 members of an Iraqi tribe in western Anbar province, including dozens of women and children whose bodies were dumped in a well, the government said in the first official confirmation of the scale of the massacre.
The systematic killings, which one tribal leader said were continuing on Sunday, marked some of the worst bloodshed in Iraq since the Sunni militants swept through the north in June with the aim of establishing medieval caliphate there and in Syria.
The Albu Nimr, also Sunni, had put up fierce resistance against ISIS for weeks but finally ran low on ammunition, food and fuel last week as Islamic State fighters closed in on their village Zauiyat Albu Nimr.
“The number of people killed by Islamic State from Albu Nimr tribe is 322. The bodies of 50 women and children have also been discovered dumped in a well,” the country’s Human Rights Ministry said on Sunday.
State television said on Sunday that PM Haider al-Abadi had ordered airstrikes on Islamic State targets around the town of Hit in response to the killings. Officials at a government security operations command centre in Anbar and civilians reached by Reuters said they had not heard of or witnessed airstrikes.
Reports of the killings came with Iraq on edge as hundreds of thousands of Shias prepare to travel to the city of Karbala this week for an annual pilgrimage.
ISIS, a Sunni extremist group that has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, is expected to target Ashura pilgrims, as 10 people died in an attack against Shiites on Sunday.
The killings are likely aimed at discouraging resistance from powerful local tribes in Anbar.
Pro-government forces have suffered a string of setbacks in Anbar in recent weeks.
Images said to show the aftermath of some of the killings circulated on Twitter, but their authenticity could not be independently confirmed.