(Reuters) – A small group of people pick through putrefying human remains laid out on plastic sheets by the side of a road in northern Iraq, searching for any trace of missing friends and relatives.
Some had brought spades to help dig up the mass grave near Suleiman Beg after the town was retaken from Sunni Islamic State militants who held the area until last week.
“They (Islamic State) slaughtered him simply because he was Shi’ite,” said Jomaa Jabratollah, hauling the remnants of his friend, a truck driver, into a coffin, having identified him from the lighter in his breast pocket. “We must take revenge”.
Helped by the United States and Iran, Kurdish forces and Shi’ite militia are finally beating back Islamic State militants who overran most Sunni Arab areas in northern and centralIraq nearly three months ago.
But the aftermath illustrates the unintended consequences of the U.S. air campaign against Islamic State.
Kurdish and Shi’ite fighters have regained ground, but Sunni Muslims who fled the violence are being prevented from returning home and some have had their houses pillaged and torched.
Rather than help keep the nation together, the air strikes risk being used by different factions for their own advantage in Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic conflicts.
The fallout also risks worsening grievances that helped Islamic State find support amongst Iraq’s Sunnis, and allows the militant group to portray the U.S. strikes as targeting their minority sect. That may make it more difficult to bring Sunnis on side and convince them to fight the militants.