Experts investigate Kurdish mass grave site in Iraq
The majority of the bodies were children or teens.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Investigators have uncovered a large grave in Iraq that may contain the bodies of 1,500 Kurds killed in the 1980s. It could produce evidence needed to prosecute ousted leader Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants for mass killings during his regime.
International forensic experts this week examined the mass grave site in Samawa, on the Euphrates River, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad. Many of those buried in the 18 trenches were believed to be Kurds killed in 1987 and 1988 during a scorched-earth campaign, said Gregg Nivala, from the U.S. government's Regime Crimes Liaison Office.
"These were not combatants," he said. "They were women and children."
During the campaign known as Anfal, which means "spoils of war" in Arabic, hundreds of thousands of Kurds were killed or expelled from northern Iraq. The campaign included the gruesome 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja. The Saddam regime was carrying out a program of removing Kurds from the northern homeland and replacing them with Arabs. Many of the Kurdish victims were buried in Iraq's central and southern desert.
The Samawa site contained a skull with pink and white dentures belongs to an old woman, investigators said. A skeleton nearby was that of a teenage girl, still clutching a brightly colored bag of possessions. The trenches were full of the skeletons of Iraqi Kurds, still in their distinctive, colorful garb, buried where they fell after being shot dead nearly 20 years ago.
Outgoing Iraqi Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin, himself a Kurd, said half a million people perished and 182,000 are missing.
"We must know what happened [and deal with] collective memory, so we can do justice, rather than revenge," Amin said.
Cause of death
The first 100 remains of the estimated 1,500 at the site would be used to certify cause of death, the identity of the victims and their origins, the investigators said.
Identification cards found on as many as 15 percent of the victims link them to Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. The clothing reinforces that those found in the graves were Kurds, Nivala said.
Many were wearing their best clothes, or multiple layers, as if told they would be relocating, he said.
Saddam and Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali," are the main defendants facing charges for the Anfal campaign.
Investigators called the mass graves evidence of "a widespread and systematic crime, committed over a long time, we think with the knowledge and direction of high-level members of the regime."
At least some things were known about the mass graves and those buried there, the investigators said.
Sixty-three percent of the victims were children or teens under 18 years of age. Ten were clearly infants. It may have been a rainy day when they were shot dead, sinking into the mud after they were struck down. They were killed with bursts of fire from AK-47s, the Russian-designed automatic rifle.
No date has been set for the trials of Saddam, captured in December 2003, and 11 of his senior aides.
The Iraqi Special Tribunal had interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses in the Anfal campaign.
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