BAGHDAD -- Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant boasted on Twitter that they had executed 1,700 Iraqi government soldiers, posting gruesome photos to support their claim.
The authenticity of the photographs and the insurgents' claim could not be verified, and Iraqi government officials initially cast doubt on whether such a mass execution took place. There were also no reports of large numbers of funerals in the Salahuddin province area, where the executions were said to have been conducted.
If the claim is true, it would be the worst mass atrocity in either Syria or Iraq in recent years, surpassing even the chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian suburbs of Damascus last year, which killed 1,400 people and were attributed to the Syrian government.
The latest attack, if proved, would also raise the specter of the war in Iraq turning genocidal, particularly because the insurgents boasted their victims were all Shiites. There were also fears it could usher in a series of re
prisal killings of Shiites and Sunnis, like those seen in the Iraq War in 2005-07.
The office of the Shiites' supreme spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, issued Saturday night what amounted to a revision of the ayatollah's call to arms Friday, apparently out of concern it was misinterpreted by many as a call for sectarian warfare.
The statement, billed as "clarifying the position on taking up arms," implored Iraqis, "especially those living in mixed areas, to exert the highest level of self-restraint during this tumultuous period."
The mass execution claim appeared on a Twitter feed previously used for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant announcements, so whether or not the executions were genuine, the organization certainly intended to boast of them.