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Iraq: ISIS Murder Photos 'Designed To Enrage'
They are as troubling as they are atrocious. More than a dozen photographs, apparently taken by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants of their own gunmen murdering scores of hog-tied unarmed men.
In the vicious calculus of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, what can the murderers possibly gain?
By posting the images on Twitter and elsewhere with captions that say "These are Persian sheep ready for slaughter" and "This is what happens to Maliki's (Shia) militia" the intent is clear.
The killers want to enrage Iraq's Shia majority.
They want a sectarian civil war.
Al Qaeda in Iraq was bent on fomenting a sectarian war eight years ago.
It blew up the golden dome of the revered al Askariya Mosque in Samarrah in 2006 in an attempt to force a counter attack from Shia militia - and drive moderate Sunnis into their extremist camp for self-defence.
Iraq's al Qaeda networks were largely destroyed, though, when Sunni militia turned against them and worked with the government in what was called The Awakening movement in the late 2000s.
Reborn as ISIS, this deliberate public massacre of Iraqi soldiers and other young Shia is intended to provoke an equally violent response from the Shia against Sunnis - many of whom consider ISIS to be an insane and criminal movement.
But many Sunnis may fight under the ISIS black flag - if only to topple the government of Nuri al Maliki - whom many believe has woefully failed to incorporate Sunnis into his government or protect their interests.
Before the photographs had even been published thousands of Shia, from Basra to Baghdad, had been signing up with the Iraqi army to fight as volunteers.
Iran, a Shia theocracy, has promised military support too. The implication there is that Tehran might intervene. There are some reports that it might already have sent troops, to defend its client government in Baghdad - which is Shia dominated.
There has been a carnival of conflict as Shia men have rallied to the cause and held demonstrations from Basra to Baghdad pledging to "show the Sunnis what the Shia can do".
The best hope of beating the ISIS back and avoiding a descent into religious mayhem most likely lies with remobilising the Sunni militia of The Awakening.
But that will take money, a lot of it - which Iraq has in the form of petro-dollars. And a commitment to bring the Sunni much closer into the government - which Maliki may not have.