Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Mosul: Victims Pile Up at City Morgue

Hard-pressed staff daily confront the horrors of local bloodletting.
By Sahar al-Haideri
After twenty years of service at the Mosul morgue, Abdul-Kareem Ahmed has become inured to death.

All the more so over the last few years of violence, which has been claiming the lives of dozens of the city’s residents a day.

But Ahmed’s detachment was shattered when the charred body of a young man was laid out on the autopsy table.

Ahmed immediately recognised the silver ring on the corpse’s finger - a gift he had given his 20-year-old son Kazim when he graduated from the College of Administration at Mosul University.

Ahmed stared at the body in disbelief - his son, he said, was no more than “some bones and burned flesh" - and then broke down and cried.

As with the central morgue in Baghdad, Mosul’s morgue struggles to cope with the number of corpses that are brought in each day.

Like the capital, this northern city - a stronghold of Sunni militants, foreign fighters and members of the Islamic Emirate in Iraq, which allies itself with al-Qaeda - has been ravaged by the insurgency and sectarian conflict.

Khalid Abdul-Ameer, an administrator at the morgue, said sometimes they receive corpses of entire families that were killed because of their religion, ethnicity or the party affiliation or profession of one or more of its members.

The constant stream of charred, deformed and mutilated corpses, and the public’s apparent disdain for the job they do, puts the 23 staff under the enormous psychological strain. “People look at us as if we were butchers,” said one employee.

Their one consolation, it seems, is that unlike in Baghdad, militants have yet to target them.

With the morgue’s refrigerators unable to store all the incoming corpses, staff try to minimise the number that are not put into cold storage by identifying the cause of death as quickly as possible and then sending them off to be buried.

The most common causes of death registered here are roadside bombs, gunshots, torture and decapitation - and most of the victims are members of the Iraqi security forces, the former regime, state officials, journalists and translators.

Staff at the morgue are so overstretched that the director has had to train unqualified staff to do autopsies. "I will employee anyone, even illiterates and people with no academic qualifications. I will teach them how to conduct autopsies," said Ryadh Hamdi.

Dr Thirgham al-Ubaidi, one of the few doctors still working there, feels desperate at the overwhelming number of dead arriving every day. "The morgue door never closes anymore - we’re always busy,” he said.

It’s demoralising, soul-destroying work. While showing this IWPR reporter around the premises, staff member Kursihd Sultan points to a disembodied head - which has seemingly been blown off in an explosion.

"This is what saddens us," he said, "What did these people ever do to deserve to fall victim to such fanatical acts of terrorism.”

One of the biggest problems are the corpses staff are unable to put a name to - bodies that have been deformed beyond recognition with no personal documentation - although relatives usually manage to identify them by spotting something familiar, such as a piece of cloth, a pair of cloth or jewelry.

Just as Ahmed discovered that his son - who, he said, had everything to live for - had become yet another victim of the conflict.

"The morning of the day he died we were talking about his desire to get married to his cousin, and now he is in a plastic bag," he said.

Sahar al-Haideri is an IWPR contributor in Mosul.

This article has been produced with support from the International Republican Institute (IRI).

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