Refugees from Anbar to Baghdad tell harrowing tales of Isil jihadists taking revenge on fellow Sunni families of police and fighters for their resistance to onslaught
Refugees from Ramadi, which has fallen to ISIL, cross into Baghdad province at the Bzaibiz Bridge, Anbar, Iraq Photo: David Rose/Telegraph
By Richard Spencer, Bzaibiz Bridge, Anbar
6:01PM BST 29 May 2015
Isil jihadists are wreaking revenge on fellow Sunnis who resisted their advance across western Iraq, killing them and hanging up their bodies, and blowing up their houses.
Members of the local police forces in Ramadi, the city Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took two weeks ago, have fled - if they have not already been killed - survivors told the Telegraph.
Family members have fled too, knowing that brothers, cousins and other relatives have also been targeted for revenge.
Some women who think they will not be harmed have tried to stay or return to their homes.
Isil targets Sunni families in Ramadi
“I came back immediately,” said Umm Ahmed, who would not give her full name because her husband is a policeman and fears retaliation. “When I got to al-Tamim, my district in Ramadi, I found my house had been totally demolished. They had blown it up.
“My aunt found her house had been rigged with explosives.”
Isil’s victory in Ramadi has emphasised the splits that have grown within Iraq’s minority Sunni community since Saddam Hussein, who put Sunni relatives and associates in major government positions, was overthrown.
As a Sunni supremacist group, Isil has considerable support in some Sunni-majority areas of Iraq, including in nearby Fallujah, which it has controlled since the beginning of last year.
Ramadi has a reputation for being more pro-government than Fallujah, and provided a Sunni basis for local policing.
Refugees camps have been setup in, Bzaibiz Bridge, Anbar Iraq
In addition, since the rise of Isil anti-jihadist tribal leaders have raised their own militias, known as Hashed.
In keeping with Isil’s ideology, Sunni captives from both Hashed and police have been spared the beheadings often meted out to Shia and Alawite captives, but have still been shot in revenge.
Shamil Faraji, who helps run a refugee camp on the Anbar border with Baghdad, showed pictures on his mobile phone which he said were of the bodies of his brother and cousin, both Hashed fighters, left hanging by their feet as a warning.
Another picture showed a row of men who appeared to have been lined up and shot, one of which was another’s brother.
The Albu Faraj is a well-known local tribe, whose leaders have recruited hundreds of men to fight alongside government forces against the Isil advance. However, they have been too lightly armed, and are not well-trained enough, to engage in the street warfare that has raged in Ramadi for almost 18 months.
The only force with the heavy armour and weaponry needed to counter the jihadists’ shock tactic of deploying well-armoured suicide trucks and bulldozers is the army, which fled. The Hashed ended up trying to defend their own small patches of territory, without a common strategy, and being overwhelmed.
The consequences for these tribal leaders is also severe. Sheikh Hamed al-Hayiss, a prominent leader from just outside Ramadi, showed off a remarkable video sent to him by jihadists he has fought for years.
In it, they parade through his house and ornate tribal majlis, or guest hall, carrying off his reproduction Louis XIV chairs, and smashing pictures of his father and grandfather.
One man turns to the camera, raises his Kalashnikov, names the Sheikh and says “this is for you”.
The final image shows the rubble of both house and majlis, after they have been blown up.
Hundreds of police and fighters’ families have now fled.
Many police are returning to the front, to reinforce the army and Shia militias who are now promising to retake Ramadi. Umm Ahmed’s husband, who was shot seven months ago, the bullet traversing his body from hip to hip, said he was about to return to his squad.
The capture of Ramadi does not bring the jihadists closer to Baghdad, which has seen little immediate fallout except for a new influx of refugees. The United Nations estimated on Friday that 85,000 people had fled the fighting and the Isil advance in Ramadi in recent days, and 180,000 altogether since last month.
However, the more control Isil have on the approaches to Baghdad, the easier it is to infiltrate car bombs – the number of which had decreased until now due to extra security.
Two car bombs hit the five-star Ishtar Cristal and Babylon Hotels in Baghdad on Thursday night, killing up to 15 people.
At the Ishtar, formerly the Sheraton, the car had been infiltrated past a high security gatehouse into the hotel car park, exploding and sending flames shooting up into the sky. Windows were shattered across the front of the hotel, one of the capital’s smartest, and the nightclub on its ground floor.