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Iraq is still exhuming mass graves

#Iraq #exhuming #mass #graves

A noisy excavator digs up dirt to uncover another mass grave in Iraq, human remains are exhumed and the forensic scientists go about their gruesome task.

A skull is stripped of a layer of clay, a tibia is placed in a body bag—all for a lab to be genetically matched to blood samples from relatives of the disappeared.

The site near the central shrine city of Najaf is one of many in a country that has suffered bloody conflict and unrest for more than four decades.

Dictator Saddam Hussein waged war against Iran from 1980 to 1988. It was followed by the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait, then the US-led invasion of 2003, years of sectarian bloodshed, and most recently the Islamic State group’s reign of terror until 2017.

Years of violence have made Iraq one of the countries with the highest number of missing people in the world, says the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In Najaf, work began in May to excavate a 1,500 square meter plot to exhume the bones of around 100 victims of a 1991 uprising against Saddam.

The mass grave was discovered by accident when developers wanted to prepare the property for building.

– ‘We waited, he never came’ –

Intissar Mohammed was summoned to provide a drop of her blood as a sample because authorities suspect her brother’s remains could be found in the mass grave.

Hamid disappeared under Saddam’s iron regime in 1980.

By that time, Intissar and the rest of the family had moved to neighboring Syria, but Hamid had stayed in Iraq for his studies and planned to join his family later.

“We waited for him, but he never came,” recalled a tearful Intissar. The young man was allegedly kidnapped, she said, “and we never heard from him again.”

Intissar, who returned to Iraq in 2011, remains confident she will find out more.

Their DNA will be “compared to bones found at the site,” said Wissam Radi, a technician at the Najaf Department of Forensic Medicine.

The identification process takes time and tries the patience of loved ones, who often complain that they feel abandoned.

Opening a mass grave is a mammoth task and “the biggest obstacles are financial,” said Dergham Kamel of the Martyrs’ Foundation, a government agency responsible for managing mass graves.

He said another government agency, the Directorate for the Protection of Mass Graves, received “no funding from the government” between 2016 and 2021.

The centralization of the Iraqi system poses another hurdle, since genetic comparisons are only carried out in the capital, Baghdad.

In the former IS bastion of Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq, forensic scientists are making slow progress analyzing the 200 or so mass graves left behind by the jihadists.

– “May God have mercy” –

Hassan al-Anazi, director of forensic medicine in the northern province of Nineveh, has asked for the missing persons database to include all ISIS victims in the region, but so far to no avail.

“There are thousands of missing people,” he said. “Every day about 30 families come to us to ask for news from their loved ones.”

However, the Khasfa mass grave in Mosul, one of the largest, has still not been opened “due to a lack of political will”.

It contains the remains of officers, doctors and academics killed by IS, for a total of around 4,000 casualties.

Grieving Mosul mother Umm Ahmed searches for information about the fate of her sons, police officers Ahmed and Faris, who were kidnapped by ISIS as it took over the city.

“I knocked on every door,” she said. “I even went to Baghdad. But I didn’t get an answer.”

The lack of information also poses a financial problem. Until the remains of a missing person are identified, family members receive no compensation from the Iraqi state.

In many cases, the fathers, sons and brothers killed by IS were breadwinners.

In order to help the families, Dalia al-Mamari founded the association The Human Line in Mosul, which advises on the compensation process.

“The government is very slow,” she said. “Often they just tell us: ‘Your children are dead, may God have mercy on them’.”

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#Iraq #exhuming #mass #graves

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