Iraq executed 42 people, including a woman, for mass killings and other “terrorism” offenses over two days this week, the justice ministry and the United Nations said on Thursday after a surge in sectarian violence.
The U.N. mission in the country said it was concerned about the executions, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, and repeated its call for Baghdad to suspend the death penalty.
Rights groups say executions have been on the rise in recent years.
Sixty-eight death sentences were carried out in 2011, according to Amnesty International. The 42 hanged this week amounted to almost a third of the total number the campaign group said were executed in all of 2012.
“The criminals were found guilty of terrorist crimes... [that] led to the deaths of dozens of innocent citizens, as well as other crimes aimed at destabilizing the security and stability of the country and causing chaos and terror among the people,” Minister of Justice Hassan al-Shimary said in a statement.
More than 6,000 people have been killed in attacks across Iraq so far this year, as Sunni Islamist insurgents including al-Qaida regain momentum.
After invading Iraq in 2003, the U.S.-led interim authority suspended the death penalty, citing its use as a tool of repression under dictator Saddam Hussein, who left behind mass graves filled with thousands of bodies.
But as sectarian carnage began to take hold of the country in 2005, Iraq reinstated the punishment for those who commit “terrorist acts”, as well as people who provoke, plan, finance and enable others to perpetrate them.
Kidnapping and murder, but also lesser offenses like damage to public property, in certain circumstances, are also punishable by death.
Members of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority accuse the Shi'ite-led government that came to power after Saddam's overthrow of using the death penalty to persecute their sect.
The ministry did not announce the names of the 48 executed this week, nor their religious affiliation.
A raid by Iraqi security forces on a Sunni protest camp in April touched off a backlash by militants that is still ongoing.
At that time, Human Rights Watch said at least 50 people had been executed by Iraqi authorities during the past month and that the concurrent increase in militant attacks and executions showed the death penalty was ineffective.