The papers: Pictures of a 'war crime' massacre

  • 16 June 2014

The conflict in Iraq continues to dominate news coverage in Monday's newspapers, with pictures purportedly showing Sunni extremists killing rows of captured soldiers.

The images - posted on jihadist websites - are said to show fighters from the militant ISIS group murdering soldiers it captured in its three-day advance across northern and western Iraq.

The Independent says the group claims the murders were in revenge for the killing of a senior commander by Iraqi troops recently.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Volunteers from Iraq's Shia community have flocked to join the country's armed forces

The paper says ISIS meticulously planned the attack, which has turned into "a bloody, merciless rampage".

The paper says that although the ISIS onslaught defeated the Iraqi army, there is a sense of a more general "Sunni uprising".

"The most important factor working in ISIS's favour is the sense among Iraq's five or six million Sunnis that the end of their oppression is at hand," it notes.

But it also quotes one Iraq resident who says the Shia majority see the conflict "as an attempt to establish the old Sunni-dominated type of government".

The Financial Times enlarges on the theme of the alliance of interests that has defeated the Iraqi national forces in much of central Iraq.

The paper says there are tensions between ISIS and other groups opposed to the Baghdad government.

It reports one hardline Sunni group has already called on its followers not to follow the ISIS exhortation to march on Shia holy cities.

Differences of opinion and approach also exist between many followers of fallen dictator Saddam Hussein and the ISIS leadership, the FT adds.

One expert tells the paper "one can imagine very soon infighting happening between anti-government forces" because ISIS are "not going to be able to be pragmatic".

The Sun says the militants' advance on the Iraqi capital has now stalled, but fighting has broken out in the town of Tal Afar.

A resident tells the paper: "There is crazy fighting and most residents are trapped inside houses; they can't leave town.

"If the fighting continues, a mass killing among civilians could result."

The Guardian's coverage kicks off by exploring the wealth that propels the ISIS group.

The paper says control of oilfields and resources looted from banks and elsewhere gave the group a war-chest of £515m with nearly double that amount in plunder being seized during its advance into the Iraqi city of Mosul.

The Guardian says computer memory sticks captured by Iraqi forces are being deciphered by US experts and they contain the names - and even emails, phone numbers and next-of-kin details - of the British and other volunteers fighting with ISIS.

More tellingly, they name Iraqi government workers helping the group, although these men are referred to only by initials.

The Times tells of the fear felt in Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - where many members of the Druze minority live - on the periphery of the Syrian and Iraqi conflict zones.

"Israel is not in the centre of these struggles, but they leak into Israel's territory," said one Israeli army officer.

Uniquely among papers, The Times questions the authenticity of the "massacre" images circulating online.

Its deputy picture editor Elizabeth Orcutt cautions that the pictures look too high-quality, too composed and are unusual for being shot by a stills camera rather than on video.


'Blame game'

Tony Blair's comments on the Iraq crisis have come in for what can only be described as a savaging in Monday's papers.

The former prime minister says the 2003 invasion of Iraq was not to blame for its present instability, and he argues that Western intervention in Syria would have prevented the emergence of radical Islamists like ISIS as a serious regional force.

The Daily Mail leads the attack with its headline "Fury at 'Blair the warmonger'".

It says his comments have provoked "an avalanche of criticism from both right and left".

Image copyright PA

It quotes Mr Blair's former deputy Lord Prescott who accused his former boss of trying to take the West "back to the Crusades"; former Labour cabinet minister Clare Short who branded him "a complete American neocon"; Tory MP Charlotte Leslie, who said his views were "dangerous" and UKIP leader Nigel Farage who called Mr Blair "an embarrassment".

Its leader column says the status of Mr Blair as a peace envoy is "an obscenity".

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson said Mr Blair's views had led him to conclude the former PM "has gone mad".

He says believing that Saddam Hussein was "always going to be toppled by a revolution to be followed by a protracted and vicious civil war" is an "attempt to rewrite history".

The London mayor - who admits he supported the invasion at the time - says the allies "destroyed the institutions of authority in Iraq without having the foggiest idea what would come next".

"That is the truth and it is time Tony Blair admitted it," he adds.

In a comment column, the Daily Mirror comes to similar conclusions.

It says "the prime minister was wrong in 2003 and he is wrong as a former prime minister in 2014.

"Blair advocating another wave of Western military assaults, this time in Syria as well as Iraq, is to repeat the mistakes of history."

The Guardian's leader column says "Saddam's Iraq was a shambles long before the decision to invade, and the blame lay both with us and him.

"That decision to invade was less about Iraq, its plight, or any threats it posed to its neighbours, than the Bush administration's perceived need for a crushing demonstration of American power after years of defeats... Mr Blair makes no mention of that."

In its leader column, The Times says "rehashing yesterday's debates will not help today's Iraq".

The paper says Mr Blair was right to say that the tide of Arab revolutions was "hardly likely to have left Iraq unscathed" even if there had been no invasion in 2003.

"In the longer term, the West must decide whether the ethnic fracturing of the Middle East is a process that can feasibly be opposed.

"The time has passed when Western leaders can truly have faith in grand plans to remake the world.

"Playing a parochial blame game helps nobody, however, when the world starts remaking itself."


'Double standards'

One of the non-foreign stories common to Monday's press is criticism of NHS bosses' pay awards.

A report by the Royal College of Nursing reveals that 11 NHS directors have been given pay rises of more than 15% in the past year, the Daily Mail reports.

The Mail focuses on the former chief executive of one NHS trust which was criticised after wrongly giving the all-clear to 810 cancer patients due to an administrative error. He received a £45,000 bonus on top of his £245,000 salary.

The paper contrasts this with the prime minister's salary, which is a more modest £142,500.

The Times says the RCN figures show that board-level hospital administrators' pay has risen by 6.1% at a time when nurses' average pay has increased by 1.6%.

Peter Carter of the nurses professional body says: "This is the worse kind of double standard and makes a mockery of [the government's] insistence that fairness has been at the heart of public sector pay."

The Guardian says the RCN has gone on the offensive at a time when there is anger among NHS workers at Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's rejection of a recommended 1% pay increase for all staff.

The paper says a programme of co-ordinated industrial action is being considered.

The Daily Telegraph was told by a Department of Health spokesman to use the RCN research "with caution".

"They have included exit packages for executive directors, but not nurses," the spokesman explained.

The Telegraph goes from NHS "fatcats", to reporting another type of obesity challenging the health service.

In a front page report, the paper says Britons' expanding waistlines mean that hospitals are having to widen corridors, order reinforced beds, lifting equipment and bigger morgue fridges.

Figures obtained by the Telegraph show that the NHS needed to spend £5.5m in the last three years adapting to treating larger patients, and the figure could rise to £10m next year.


Four million sausages

The footie-mad Monday newspapers take in England's weekend World Cup defeat to Italy and look ahead to the team's next challenge on Thursday - beating Uruguay.

The Sun tells the sad tale of England physio, Gary Lewin, who dislocated his ankle when leaping from the dugout to celebrate England's goal and slipping on a water bottle.

His wife Maggie told the paper: "Gary is obviously disappointed to be flying home early.

"The artificial turf was wet where the groundsmen had been spraying."

The Daily Mail is one of a number of papers to criticise BBC match pundit Phil Neville for his "soporific" commentary on the game.

The paper said fans "made fun of his robotic voice and dull insights", with many taking to social media to post their observations.

Image caption The BBC's Phil Neville was accused of sounding "like a hostage reading out a prepared statement at gunpoint" by one Twitter user

Former Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann tweeted: "If Phil Neville reads his Twitter feed he may not come out for the second half."

However, the rookie commentator took the ribbing in good humour, the Mail says, tweeting: "Sometimes you have to take the criticism - it will only make me better. Thanks for the feedback (ahhahaha)!"

Whether he will return if England progress to the knockout phase of the tournament "is yet to be decided" the BBC told the paper.

The Daily Mirror reports the economic bonus of Saturday's match - which was watched by 15.6 million people.

The paper says England's pub landlords took in an extra £38m and an additional two million burgers and four million sausages were bought for pre-match barbecues. It does not explain how it calculated these figures.

The Independent says Fifa has come under pressure to explain why every match played so far in Brazil, bar the opener which featured the host nation, has had empty seats on show - despite all being recorded as sell-outs.

The Guardian says the tournament has not been "glitch-free" but "the worst doomsday scenarios" have been avoided.

Transport snarl-ups, it reports, seem to be the worst gripe of many Brazilians, with some cities seeing home-to-work commutes taking five times longer than average.

As for England's fans at the Cup, the paper says, they "revel in Brazil's big party". England fans at home will hope the mood will soar even further after Thursday night.

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