Authorities in Iraq unearthed four mass graves in a desert in the southern part of their country with dozens of bodies believed to be Kurds massacred by forces loyal to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Voice of America (VOA) reported this week.
Jabar Omar, the chief of Iraqi Kurdistan’s Office of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs in Garmyan, determined that most of the victims are women and children, including infants. Omar is overseeing the excavation process.
Garmyan is the southernmost region administered by the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), mainly located in northern Iraq.
“The victims are buried on the top of each other and they are mostly women and children. Separating the bodies is difficult because many of them are infants, between one and two years of age, buried between their mothers’ arms,” Omar declared.
Authorities found the mass graves in the desert in southern Iraq’s al-Muthanna province.
Omar told VOA that early exhumation of just one of the graves found the remains of 70 people, adding that the number is expected to rise with the excavation of the remaining graves.
“More than 70 bodies including women and children, ranging from newborns to 10 years old” have so far been exhumed, Zaid al-Youssef, the head of Baghdad’s Medico-Legal Directorate tasked with identifying the remains, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.
“The female victims were blindfolded and killed by gunshots to the head, but also have traces on various parts of their bodies of bullets that were fired randomly,” he added.
The people, consisting mostly of women and children, are believed to have been killed between 1987-1988, during the Iraqi former regime’s “Anfal campaign” against the Kurds.
The Anfal campaign was unleashed against the Kurds in the late 1980s by Hussein’s forces and led by his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid. The campaign reportedly left 180,000 Kurds dead or missing, and about 4,500 villages were destroyed.
In 2007, an Iraqi court sentenced al-Majid to death for his leading role in the genocidal campaign against the Kurds. Overall, “Saddam’s regime forcefully disappeared more than one million people in the 1980s and 1990s, and many of their families are still trying to find out what happened to them,” AFP pointed out.
Citing Kurdish officials, VOA noted that the whereabouts of thousands of Kurds who disappeared during Hussein’s lethal campaign remains unknown.
Several families are reportedly still looking for their loved ones, trying to find them whether or not they are alive.
“Once the remains are collected, a team of legal and forensics officials will transport the bodies to Baghdad for further testing,” Omar indicated, adding, “Decaying clothing recovered from the mass grave show the victims are most likely from Garmyan district.”
Authorities have discovered several mass graves containing the bodies of Kurds since the U.S..-backed overthrow of Hussein’s regime in 2003.