BAGHDAD, Iraq – The bodies of 41 Kuwaitis believed killed during the first Gulf War have been unearthed in southern Iraq, one of 295 mass graves containing thousands of Saddam Hussein’s victims uncovered in the two years since U.S.-led forces invaded and ousted the dictator, an Iraqi official said Saturday.
The discovery in the city of Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad, was another step in documenting what happened to 605 Kuwaitis who have been missing since the 1991 Gulf War. The bodies of only 190 other Kuwaitis have been identified.
Around the country, Iraq’s human rights minister, Bakhtiar Amin, said some mass graves contained the remains of dozens of people, while other had thousands, with victims including Kuwaitis and minority Kurds, who were systematically killed during Saddam’s rule.
“Iraq is a land of mass graves due to the genocide policy of Saddam Hussein,” he said. “We have hundreds of thousands of people missing.”
It was difficult to estimate how many people were buried in the different sites, since some graves had several layers that have not yet been uncovered, Amin said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. At a site in Hatra, Amin said, “we went looking for one and we found 11. It’s difficult to say. It could be more, it could be less. The number of missing is calculated to be about 1 million in Iraq,” he said.
Some 2,000 bodies were found recently in the area of Samawah in northern Iraq. The entire site is believed to hold members of Massoud Barzani’s clan. Some 8,000 relatives of Barzani, who heads the Kurdish Democratic Party, were taken from a camp in the northern city of Irbil in 1983 and never heard from again.
Amin said hundreds of thousands of Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south were killed and remained missing after rising up against Saddam’s regime during the first Gulf War. “We are in the beginning of this search for truth. More than half the Iraqi population has a loved one who is missing, disappeared,” he said.
The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry so far has files on 150,000 people missing from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and the first and second Gulf Wars. Amin said he informed the Kuwaiti government of the discovery in Amarah three days ago. The difficult security situation in Iraq is hampering the work of investigators as authorities find or are alerted to the discovery of mass graves, which will provide evidence in war crimes cases the government is building against Saddam and his top ministers, Amin said.
Cases already have been brought to court against Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, one of Saddam’s half brothers, former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as “Chemical Ali” for his part in the chemical weapons gassing of Kurds in the north of the country.
“The list of crimes that these people committed is long, and the trials will start as soon as possible,” Amin said.
Since January, two mass graves were discovered in Kirkuk, two were found in Sulaymaniyah, and one in Halabja – all containing Kurdish victims, Amin said.
Investigators also traveled to Nasiriyah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, last week to inspect a site that locals had begun digging up after a farmer plowing in his field discovered about 20 bodies. It was not known where the bodies came from. “We’re calling on our citizens. No one should open the mass graves. They should inform the authorities and the human rights people. It needs to be done properly, scientifically, respectfully,” Amin said.
Files sent from the International Committee of the Red Cross on missing persons altogether weighed about 130 pounds, Amin said. He said the ministry hoped to open three centers in the north, south and center of the country to create rehabilitation programs for the families of victims.
“We have had unfortunately this terrible legacy of wars and families left behind in pain,” Amin said. “Saddam has caused pain and suffering to these people and its neighbors because of his aggressive policies. The healing process is going to take time, the tender wounds are still fresh.”