Iraq hanged 13 prisoners convicted on terror charges, the Justice Ministry announced Friday, following a recommendation by the prime minister to speed up executions of those on death row for terror-related offenses.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi is facing fresh questions over gaps in security after bodies of eight policemen and members of a pro-government Shiite militia were found on the side of a highway north of Baghdad this week. The eight were believed to have been abducted by Islamic State militants earlier this month.
The 13 prisoners were executed late Thursday, hours after al-Abadi recommended to President Fuad Masum that he sign execution orders for all terror suspects awaiting capital punishment.
The Justice Ministry, which said the men had exhausted all possibilities for appeal, released photographs, including one showing four men hanging at the gallows.
Earlier Friday, al-Abadi's office said 12 men had been executed. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
A representative of Iraq's highest Shiite authority accused politicians Friday of ignoring the lingering threat posed by IS despite the fact that the authorities declared victory over the militants last year.
IS has been defeated in all major urban centers it held at the height of its power in 2014 in Syria and Iraq, including Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. Its self-proclaimed "caliphate" has also been dismantled. In Iraq, the victory was achieved thanks to the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and also a predominantly-Shiite umbrella of militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
"Its so-called 'state' is shattered, but still there are cells that appear and disappear from time to time in the various areas to terrorize citizens," said Sheikh Abdelmahdi al-Karbala'i, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in a Friday sermon broadcast on state TV.
He accused the Iraqi government of losing sight of the threat still posed by IS as politicians focus on forming coalitions after national elections were held in May. The vote was the first held since IS defeat.
Concerns remain over the lingering threat still posed by IS remnants operating out of desert territory in northern Iraq. Analysts and foreign diplomats have warned that the militant group will continue to find support among Iraq's marginalized Sunni population, so long as reconstruction efforts lag and displaced Sunnis languish in camps in the countryside.
A hostage video released by the militant group earlier this month showed six of the eight men who were later found killed north of Baghdad. It sparked an outcry over lacks in security.
Wathiq al-Hashimi, an analyst at the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies, said the latest executions appear to be retribution for the IS abductions.
"There's public pressure on the government and pressure to apply the death sentence in response to the crime committed by the Islamic State group," he said.