Kurdish-style clothing lies exposed at the site of a suspected mass grave in Muthanna province, southern Iraq, April 13, 2019. Photo: Rudaw TV
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Mass graves discovered in Iraq’s southern Muthanna Governorate contain the remains of Kurds killed during Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign, Kurdistan Region Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani confirmed Saturday.
Muthanna Provincial Council told Rudaw there are four mass graves at the site, estimated to contain up to 200 bodies.
Farqan Sahib, a volunteer working at the site of the discovery, told Rudaw he had seen the remains of a mother with “a baby in her arms and another next to her”.
In a Facebook post on Saturday night, Talabani said “initial indications have shown that it contains the honorable Anfal [victims] of Kurdistan.”
Thanking the governor of Muthanna, Ahmed Manfi Jawda, who announced the discovery on Friday, Talabani said a delegation from the Kurdistan Region’s Martyrs and Anfal Affairs Ministry will soon visit Baghdad to investigate.
“Expert teams will soon start working to reveal the identity [of the victims] and later return the bodies to the sacred land of Kurdistan,” Talabani added.
Although the identity of those buried at the site has not been independently verified, Muthanna governor Jawda said he suspects the grave contains the remains of Kurdish victims of the Anfal campaign.
Iraqi troops inspect the site of a suspected mass grave in the southern Iraqi province of Muthanna, April 13, 2019. Photo: Rudaw TV
At least 182,000 Kurds were systematically executed by Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime in the late 1980s. Many thousands were taken to Iraq’s southern desert provinces where they were killed and buried en masse.
The Anfal campaign took place over eight phases – beginning in 1986, reaching its peak in 1988, and culminating in the closing weeks of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88).
Anfal, the eighth sura in the Quran, was the codename used by the Baathist regime for the slaughter.
The Muthanna governor visited the Kurdistan Region last month and met with Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), to discuss efforts to find other Anfal-era mass graves.
Baravan Hamdi, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s deputy minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, told Rudaw the KRG is working in coordination with the Iraqi health ministry, Iraq’s martyrs ministry, Baghdad mortuary, and the defense ministry to uncover further sites.
Hamdi said it is not clear where the Muthanna bodies are from, but said he is sending a KRG team to “take legal and medical measures and follow international standards to unearth them, identify them and repatriate them and lastly rebury them.”
The discovery came just days ahead of Anfal Memorial Day, marked annually on April 14.
Candles have been planted in the soil to commemorate the 200 Anfal victims thought to rest at the site, April 13, 2019. Photo: Rudaw TV
Hamdi believes most of the mass graves are located in the deserts of Samawa, “particularly on the Iraq-Saudi border”.
Dr. Mohammed Ihsan, president of Erbil International University and expert of Anfal and genocide studies, accused the Iraqi government of dragging its feet on the issue of finding and exhuming Baathist-era mass graves.
“Nobody could estimate how many mass graves are left to be discovered, but I dare say there are many, many left and particularly in Samawa province because it is the capital of mass graves in Iraq,” he told Rudaw Saturday.
“There is a legal obstacle. According to the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry law No.5, 2006, this work is designated only to the federal government,” he added, accusing the Iraqi government of “never” supporting the KRG’s work on the issue.
After the collapse of the Baathist regime in 2003, the KRG coordinated with post-Saddam governments to uncover the graves with the help of local witnesses.
A US team uncovered the first mass grave shortly after the liberation. It was found to contain 114 bodies. A second mass grave was found on Iraq-Saudi border in 2005, where the bodies of 93 Barzanis were uncovered.
From 2003 to 2018, more than 2,500 bodies have been discovered and repatriated to the Kurdistan Region, Rebwar Ramazan, head of the Barzanis martyrs and Anfal affairs, told Rudaw.
Ramazan says 150 people from his village and extended family were killed during the Anfal.
In addition to the 182,000 declared missing, an estimated 8,000 Barzanis were abducted in 1983 never to be seen again, he said. Of this 8,000, just 596 have been found and returned.