The full extent of Saddam Hussein’s terror on Iraq and in particular towards the Kurds was demonstrated once again near the ancient town of Hatra in northern Iraq. The mass grave was discovered many months ago, but was exhumed recently to determine the last minutes of an estimated 300 men, women and children before they were executed and later buried in numerous trenches. As other trenches are excavated in the area, they may find thousands more buried beneath the sandy wadis of Hatra. Forensic experts hope that evidence gathered from the exhumed bodies at the temporary morgue will provide solid evidence that Saddam committed mass murder.
Hatra is only a small brick in a massive construction of genocide, aggression and terror committed by Saddam. Perhaps the greatest irony is that at the time of writing, debate rages in London and Washington about the motives for the liberation of Iraq and the failure to discover any “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD): The world forgets about the father of WMDs - Saddam Hussein himself.
Since the fall of his regime, the discovery of mass graves has been commonplace in the marshlands of southern Iraq, the fields and mountains of northern Iraq and in the deserts of western Iraq. Just about every corner of his former realm has witnessed the unearthing of mass graves.
It is important that we have captured the chief slayer and discovered the debris of his terror. Finding chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to some extent is irrelevant.
The lack of evidence for these weapons in Iraq is overshadowed by the proven and undeniable use of them in Halabja (March 1988), where Mustard and Sarin gas were used to systematically wipe out a whole village while leaving a legacy of trauma and suffering in the minds of all Kurds that will never be forgotten.
The Unearthing of Hatra
Al-Anfal (or “The Spoils”) was the name given to a massive genocide campaign by the former Iraqi regime between 1987 and 1988 to wipe out Kurdish resistance once and for all. This campaign, spear-headed by Saddam’s now infamous cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, more commonly known as “Chemical Ali”, ripped through the heart of Kurdish society and killed an estimated 182,000 innocent Kurdish civilians. In this period, thousands of men and boys deemed able to fight, were rounded-up and then seemingly vanished without a trace. Only now, after the fall of the deposed dictator, have we begun to reveal where they went.
Greg Kehoe, a lawyer and a war-crimes expert working with the Iraqi Special Tribunal Team of archaeologists and anthropologists, has been charged with investigating graves on a plain near Lake Dokan in Suleiynmania. The position of the graves at the bottom of a valley, which is susceptible to seasonal flooding, has meant the bodies have been partially preserved. However palpable the massacres may seem as a result, it will never compare to the acute sorrow and hurt felt by thousands of grieving families.
The bodies of the hapless victims were separated into two trenches, possibly because the atrocities were committed on separate occasions. The women were killed with pistol wounds to the head and the children to the face. The men were blindfolded before being tied together and gunned down by semi-automatic fire.
The identity of these victims was never in doubt: the bullet-holed traditional baggy Kurdish trousers are testimony to this. The bodies were then bulldozed, probably as some of the victims were fighting for their last breaths. A woman, shot in the head, was discovered clutching a baby, while a child was found holding a football in his diminutive grasp. It is unlikely the women and children knew about their ultimate fate as most of them were prepared for long journeys ahead and were carrying pots, pans and other tools. Jessica Mondero, a US expert examining the graves, explained, "Lots of children's clothing, medication, beads, money, change purses were layered within the clothing”.
It became clear as the graves were excavated that some women were pregnant at the time of death. Fetus bones were found among the corpses, described by US anthropologist P Willey as "Tiny bones, femurs, thighbones the size of matchsticks”.
It is intended that the evidence gathered by this team will be used to try Saddam for crimes against humanity along with other senior Ba’athists figures at an undetermined date next year. Mr. Kehoe, briefing the media, was certain this was an act of genocide.
"This does not take place systematically without somebody giving the command on top. That's why I'm confident that this was a killing field," said Mr Kehoe.