Najaf: Noisy backhoes dig up the Earth, discover yet another mass grave in Iraq, dig out human bodies, and forensic experts undertake their tough work. The skull is released from the layer of clay and the tibia is placed in a body bag-all directed to the laboratory, which is genetically checked for blood samples from disappearing relatives.

The location near the central shrine city of Najaf is one of many places in the country that has been suffering from bloody conflicts and turmoil for over 40 years. Dictator Saddam Hussein wages war with Iran between 1980 and 1988. This was followed by the Gulf War of 1991, the US-led aggression of 2003, years of bloodshed between denominations, and more recently the rule of terrorism by Islamic state groups until 2017.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, years of violence have made Iraq one of the most disappeared countries in the world. In Najaf, work began in May to dig up a 1,500-square-meter plot to dig up the bones of about 100 victims of the 1991 rebellion against Saddam. Mass graves were discovered by chance when a real estate developer wanted to prepare land for construction.

Intisal Mohammed was summoned to provide a drop of her blood as a sample because authorities suspected that the body of her brother could have been found in a mass grave. Hamid disappeared under Saddam’s Tekken administration in 1980. At that time, Intisar and her family had moved to neighboring Syria, but Hamid planned to stay in Iraq for his studies and later join his family.

“We were waiting for him, but he never came,” recalled Intiser, who shed tears. The young man was kidnapped, she said, “and we never got in touch with him again.” Intisar, who returned to Iraq in 2011, hopes she will know more. Her DNA is “compared to the bones found on the spot,” said Whitham Radi, a technician in Najaf’s forensic department.

The process of identity verification can be time consuming and diminishes the patience of relatives. Relatives often complain that they feel abandoned. Opening a mass grave is a huge task, and “the biggest obstacle is financial,” said Durgam Camel of the Martyrs Foundation, the state agency responsible for managing mass graves. He said another government agency, the Mass Cemetery Conservation Bureau, was “not funded by the government” between 2016 and 2021.

Centralization of the Iraqi system is another hurdle as genetic comparisons are made exclusively in the capital Baghdad. In the former IS fortress Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq, forensic scientists are slowly analyzing the mass graves of about 200 people left by jihadists.

Hassan al-Anaji, the head of forensic medicine in northern Nineveh Governorate, asked for the missing person database to include all IS victims in the region, but so far it has not helped. “There are thousands of missing people,” he said. “Every day, about 30 families come to us and ask for news of their loved ones.” But he is “due to lack of political will”, Khasfa in Mosul, one of the biggest. He said the mass grave had not been opened yet. This includes the bodies of officers, doctors and scholars killed by the IS, with a total of about 4,000 casualties. Mosul’s mother, Umm Ahmed, is seeking information about the fate of her sons, police officers Ahmed and Farris, who were abducted when IS hijacked the city. “I knocked on all the doors,” she said. “I also went to Baghdad, but I didn’t have an answer.”

Lack of information also causes financial problems. Relatives will not be compensated by the Iraqi state until the body of the disappeared person is identified. In many cases, the fathers, sons, and siblings killed by IS were earners. To help her family, Daria Al Mamari has established the Human Line Association in Mosul to advise on the compensation process. “The government is very slow,” she said. “Often they tell us,” Your children are dead. May God have mercy on them. ” – AFP

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