Gun-toting children were paraded for the cameras in Iraq yesterday – on both sides of the bloody conflict.
A shocking video emerged showing armed boys watching the execution of a prisoner by masked jihadi fighters.
The children – some as young as eight – look on as a prisoner is made to kneel in the dirt before being shot in the back of the head.
The video of gun-toting children was uploaded on YouTube with the chilling message: 'Brutal sectarian war has come again to Iraq and many say it's as bad as in the dark days of 2007.'
It follows two days of sickening propaganda videos posted by ISIS showing their black-uniformed gunmen humiliating, taunting and then executing captured Iraqi soldiers, some apparently shot as they lay in a shallow grave.
The United Nations said yesterday ISIS fighters have carried out hundreds of summary executions since their offensive began last week, including the apparent massacre of captured Iraqi soldiers.
Yesterday as the United States sent 275 soldiers to Baghdad to protect its embassy, insurgents moved closer to the Iraqi capital with an attack on the gateway town of Baquba, 37 miles away, where government troops were said to have 'stalled' their advance after being joined in the fight by Shiite militiamen. Dozens were reported to have been killed in the fighting.
At least 44 prisoners held in the town's police station are said to have been killed although there were conflicting reports of how they died.
Three police officers said Shiite militiamen, who rushed to defend the facility, killed the detainees at close range rather than allow insurgents to be set free but the military spokesman gave a different story, claimed they died when the attackers shelled it with mortar rounds. A third witness said prison guards had carried out the killings.
A mortuary official in Baquba said many of the bodies of detainees had bullet wounds to the head and chest.
The fighters in Baquba, many newly armed with weapons captured in Mosul, have been joined by other Sunni factions, including former members of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and tribal figures, who share widespread anger among Iraq's Sunni minority at perceived oppression by the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Officials confirmed that the Baiji refinery north of Baghdad had shut down and foreign workers evacuated, although they said government troops still held the vast compound. With the refinery shut, Iraq will face problems generating electricity and pumping water to sustain its cities in summer.
It came as Iraq's Shi'ite rulers defied Western calls to reach out to Sunnis to defuse the uprising in the north of the country, instead declaring a boycott of Iraq's main Sunni political bloc and accusing Sunni power Saudi Arabia of promoting 'genocide.
Washington has made clear it wants Mr Maliki to embrace Sunni politicians as a condition of U.S. support to fight the advance by ISIS forces.
But in what diplomats say is a sign of the problems they face dealing with the Shi'ite prime minister, he has moved in the opposite direction, announcing a crackdown on politicians and officers he considers 'traitors' and lashing out at neighbouring Sunni countries for stoking militancy.
The latest target of his government's fury was Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power in the Gulf, which funds Sunni militants in neighbouring Syria but denies it is behind ISIS.
'We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that - which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites,' the Iraqi government said of Riyadh in a statement.