Iraqi police on Monday discovered 15 corpses in Baghdad, a bloody start to the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Police found the bodies across Iraq’s capital, security sources said, including three women, aged 25-30, who had been handcuffed and shot in the head execution-style in an industrial area just north of the predominantly Shia Sadr City district. Further details were not immediately available.
The killings underlined growing fears of a relapse into sectarian civil war since Sunni insurgents led by Al-Qaeda-breakaway group the Islamic State seized large swathes of the north last month.
As Islamic State fighters set their sights on Baghdad, Iraqi politicians struggle to form a power-sharing government capable of tackling the insurgency. The Islamic State is not expected to attempt a takeover of the capital, a stronghold of the Iraqi security forces and the country's Shia majority, but they have exacerbated the country's religious tensions and sectarian killings are on the rise.
Baghdad's morgues are filling up again with victims of slayings like those discovered Monday. Kidnappings are on the rise, and the bloodshed is forcing families to flee abroad or move to neighborhoods where they feel less threatened.
France said on Monday it would welcome Christians from northern Iraq who have been told by the Islamic State to convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death.
Ever since the Islamic State declared its vast holdings across Syria and Iraq a restored Islamic caliphate and began to impose its radical brand of sharia law, hundreds of Christian families in Mosul have been forced to flee a city that has hosted the faith since its earliest years.
"We are providing aid to displaced people fleeing from the threats of Islamic State and who have sought refuge in Kurdistan. We are ready, if they wish, to facilitate their asylum on our soil," France's foreign and interior ministers, Laurent Fabius and Bernard Cazeneuve, said in a joint statement. "We are in constant contact with local and national authorities to ensure everything is done to protect them."
Iraq's Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, earlier this month condemned the armed group's treatment of the Christians and instructed a government committee to help those made homeless. However, Maliki has not said when the army might try to win back control of Mosul.
Islamic State has also warned all women in the city to wear full-face veils or risk severe punishment, and has stoned several women to death elsewhere in their territory. They have also summarily executed dozens of Shias, who they consider infidels.
The U.N. Security Council has already denounced the persecution of minorities in Iraq, warning that such actions can be considered crimes against humanity.
In a unanimous declaration adopted last week, the council condemned "in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of individuals from minority populations and those who refuse its extremist ideology in Iraq by ISIL [Islamic State] and associated armed groups."
Before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, more than a million Christians lived in Iraq, including more than 600,000 in Baghdad and 60,000 in Mosul, as well as a substantial number in Kirkuk and in Basra.
Al Jazeera and wire services