Iraq starts exhuming bodies from mass graves in Tikrit

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Lab tests will be carried out to match them with DNA samples that have already been taken from families of around 85 per cent of the victims.
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Baghdad — Iraqi forensic teams in the newly liberated city of Tikrit have started exhuming bodies from mass graves believed to contain some of the hundreds of soldiers killed by Daesh militants last year, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Iraqi forensic teams recover bodies from a mass grave in the presidential compound of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit. — Reuters

Kamil Amin, from Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry, said the work started on Monday on eight locations inside Tikrit’s complex of presidential palaces, where much of the killing is believed to have taken place.

Daesh militants overran Saddam Hussein’s hometown last June, capturing around 1,700 soldiers as they were trying to flee Camp Speicher, an air base previously used by US troops on the outskirt of Tikrit.

The fall of Tikrit was part of the Daesh onslaught that stunned Iraqi security forces and the military, which melted away as the militants advanced and captured key cities and towns in the country’s north and west.

Later, the Daesh group posted graphic images online that appeared to show its gunmen massacring scores of the soldiers after loading the captives onto flatbed trucks and then forcing them to lay face-down in a shallow ditch, their arms tied behind their backs.

Other videos showed masked gunmen bringing the soldiers to a bloodstained concrete river waterfront inside the presidential palaces complex in Tikrit, shooting them in the head and throwing them into the Tigris River.

After weeks of bitter clashes, Iraqi forces and allied militias, succeeded in retaking Tikrit from the Daesh. Their victory was helped by US-led coalition air strikes, which were not initially part of the operation.

Amin told that at least 12 bodies were exhumed on Monday. Lab tests will be carried out to match them with DNA samples that have already been taken from families of around 85 per cent of the victims.

Iraqi state TV showed forensic teams digging in an open area, helped by bulldozers as family members stood nearby. The bodies were tagged with yellow tags while weeping soldiers and relatives lit candles and laid flowers alongside the covered remains. One clip showed unearthed skeletal remains still wearing combat boots.

“The work is continuing and we expect to discover more mass graves in different areas,” Amin said. “We expect huge number of bodies to be unearthed.”

During their blitz last year, the Daesh extremists also carried out other mass killings in other areas. One of those massacres was outside the country’s second-largest city of Mosul where they forced some 600 inmates captured from Badoosh prison to kneel along the edge of a nearby ravine and shot them with automatic weapons. The prisoners had been serving sentences for a range of crimes, from murder and assault to nonviolent offenses.

And in Anbar province, the militants shot dead dozens of pro-government tribal fighters in public areas after capturing their towns.

The Daesh onslaught plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the 2011 US troop withdrawal from the country.

The militants have also targeted Iraq’s indigenous religious minorities, including Christians, forcing tens of thousands from their homes.

Since then, the Daesh has carved out a self-styled state in the large area straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border that it now controls.

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