In an attempt to drive out anti-government fighters, the Iraqi army has reportedly been dropping barrel bombs on the city of Fallujah, killing civilians, hospital sources and witnesses told Al Jazeera.
The use of barrel bombs in civilian areas is banned under international conventions, given their indiscriminate nature.
Mohammed al-Jumaili, a local journalist, told Al Jazeera that the army has repeatedly dropped barrel bombs "targeting mosques, houses and markets" in Fallujah.
Barrel bombs are simple but destructive — they're oil barrels stuffed with explosives that get dropped from helicopters.
Local hospital sources said the situation was getting worse for many people who had been trapped in the city since the army cut off a key bridge.
Fallujah, just west of Baghdad, is where American soldiers and Iraqis engaged in some of the fiercest fighting of the Iraq war.
With Shia Iraqis in power in Baghdad, the country’s Sunni minority says it feels left out of the country’s decision-making process.
To make matters worse, the civil war in Syria has led to a glut of battle-scarred young men, who slip across the porous border between Iraq and Syria. The Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been responsible for attacks across western Iraq and eastern Syria.
The Iraqi government has denied the use of barrel bombs and asserted that it was fighting in a "humane way.”
Al Jazeera, however, has obtained photographs showing strong evidence of barrel bomb use.
The Syrian government has made extensive use of barrel bombs, using them to terrify civilians in rebel-held areas, dropping them on hospitals and apartment buildings.
Meanwhile, armed fighters in northern Iraq ambushed an army convoy on Saturday and abducted at least 20 soldiers before killing them by shooting them in the head, army officials said Sunday.
It’s the deadliest yet attack on soldiers in a growing series of execution-style attacks in the country, and Iraqi officials say members of ISIL are behind this latest brazen massacre.
"All the soldiers' bodies bore bullet wounds to the head ... they were all executed and this is the hallmark of ISIL groups," said an army officer in Mosul. Two other officers also blamed ISIL.
Saturday’s deadly ambush took place near Ain al-Jahash in the northern province of Nineveh, one of the most unstable regions in Iraq and through which a long section of pipeline runs on its course from the Kirkuk oilfields to neighboring Turkey.
Security officials told Reuters that fighters disguised as soldiers and driving army vehicles, possibly seized in previous attacks, had ambushed the convoy and abducted the conscripts, killing them en masse hours later.
"The soldiers were taken by surprise and realized too late that the humvees were driven by terrorists rather than their colleagues," said one army officer from the same brigade as the slain conscripts.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the killings, but armed groups, including ISIL, have a firm presence in Nineveh, which borders Syria.
Al Jazeera's Imran Khan contributed reporting from Baghdad, with Reuters