Iraq executes 12 after PM calls for speedy executions

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq put to death 12 people convicted of terrorism hours after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for speedy executions in response to the kidnapping and killing of eight members of the security forces, the government said on Friday.

People convicted of terrorism are seen before their execution, in response of the kidnapping and killing of eight members of Iraq's Security Forces, in Baghdad, Iraq June 29, 2018. Ministry of Justice (Iraq) /Handout via REUTERS

Late on Thursday Abadi had ordered “just retribution” through faster executions of al those on death row for terrorism convictions who had exhausted their appeals.

“Based on the orders of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, executions were carried out on Thursday of 12 convicted terrorists who have received final verdicts,” a government spokesman said in a statement.

Security forces on Wednesday found the bodies of eight men mutilated and rigged with explosives, two days after a deadline set by their Islamic State kidnappers expired.

The militants had kidnapped members of Iraq’s security forces and showed six of them in a video posted online on Saturday, threatening to kill them within three days if the government did not release female Sunni prisoners.

An interior ministry spokesman said autopsies showed the men were killed before the deadline expired and that the video was Islamic State propaganda.

Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who rarely comments on political issues, weighed in on the kidnapping which has been a heated topic in Iraq this week and has dominated local media coverage.

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The country’s leaders should focus on defeating Islamic State and not the results of a May parliamentary election, he said in a Friday prayers sermon delivered by a representative in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala, where several of the slain men came from.

“It is not correct to get distracted with election results and forming alliances or fighting over positions from doing what is necessary to destroy the terrorists and provide protection for citizens in all areas and provinces,” he said.

During campaign season many Iraqis said they view the political class as out of touch and more concerned with power than serving their needs.

At the funeral procession held for the men from Kerbala, mourners hung posters warning politicians not to attend or try to use it for political gain, photos circulated on social media showed.

Abadi declared final victory over the hard-line Sunni militants in December, but the group still operates from pockets along the border with Syria and has continued to carry out ambushes, assassinations and bombings across Iraq.

Attacks by the group have picked up in recent weeks, especially on a highway connecting the capital, Baghdad, with the country’s north, where the men were taken.

The prime minister, seeking a second term as a compromise candidate within a coalition government despite his political bloc coming third in the election, had held a series of meetings with security and intelligence officials ever since the kidnapping video came out.

Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein, editing by Larry King, William Maclean