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

New Mass Grave Excavations in Iraq

Mass graves near Kirkuk, first discovered after US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, now being examined in joint forensics operation by the Kurdish and Iraqi governments.
By Kamaran Najm
  • Abdullah Hamid Habib, the top Patriotic Union of Kurdistan official in the village of Topzawa, north of Baghdad, examines a watch found in one of three mass graves on December 10.
    Abdullah Hamid Habib, the top Patriotic Union of Kurdistan official in the village of Topzawa, north of Baghdad, examines a watch found in one of three mass graves on December 10.
  • A team of forensic experts use specialised tools to exhume and clean skeletal remains found at three mass graves sites in Topzawa.
    A team of forensic experts use specialised tools to exhume and clean skeletal remains found at three mass graves sites in Topzawa.
  • A team of forensic experts use specialised tools to exhume and clean skeletal remains found at three mass graves sites in Topzawa.
    A team of forensic experts use specialised tools to exhume and clean skeletal remains found at three mass graves sites in Topzawa.
  • A team of forensic experts use specialised tools to exhume and clean skeletal remains found at three mass graves sites in Topzawa.
    A team of forensic experts use specialised tools to exhume and clean skeletal remains found at three mass graves sites in Topzawa.
  • Brushes, plastic gloves and spades used by forensic experts in the Topzawa excavation. Later, DNA samples collected from the site will be cross-referenced with that of families who lost loved ones during Saddam‘s ethnic-cleansing campaign against the Kurds.
    Brushes, plastic gloves and spades used by forensic experts in the Topzawa excavation. Later, DNA samples collected from the site will be cross-referenced with that of families who lost loved ones during Saddam‘s ethnic-cleansing campaign against the Kurds.
  • A marker points to one of three mass graves opened on December 10 by forensics experts.
    A marker points to one of three mass graves opened on December 10 by forensics experts.
  • Abdullah Hamid Habib, the top PUK official in Topzawa, watches forensic experts exhume human remains at a mass grave in Topzawa.
    Abdullah Hamid Habib, the top PUK official in Topzawa, watches forensic experts exhume human remains at a mass grave in Topzawa.
  • Colonel Sheq Kharib, head of security at Topzawa, checks the names of approved personnel at the closely-guarded mass graves site. Some 50 soldiers were assigned to patrol the site when the graves were opened on December 10.
    Colonel Sheq Kharib, head of security at Topzawa, checks the names of approved personnel at the closely-guarded mass graves site. Some 50 soldiers were assigned to patrol the site when the graves were opened on December 10.

Newly excavated mass graves in the village of Topzawa, near Kirkuk, are grisly reminders of the former dictator Saddam Hussein’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Kurds in the 1980s, known as Anfal, which led to the disappearance of an estimated 180,000 people.

Hundreds of mass graves, with many of the victims believed to be Kurds, have been reported since the regime was toppled in 2003. Most of the dead have so far remained unidentified.

But officials now say a campaign is underway to use high-tech forensic methods and DNA testing to identify the victims and return remains to loved ones. The Topzawa project is being heralded by authorities as the first-ever joint operation between Erbil and Baghdad to excavate Iraq’s killing fields.

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