On May 13, news filtered out from the southern province of Diwaniya that the local authorities there had discovered a mass grave in the eastern end of the province containing what is projected to be 100 corpses. Initial reports, based on items of clothing and the state of decomposition, indicate that the victims, mostly women and children, were Kurds who had been transported from the north of the country and killed and buried there during the genocidal Anfal Campaign (1987-1988).
On Monday, the local bureau of the Ministry of Human Rights in Najaf declared that it will begin to exhume bodies from a single mass grave in the Qadissiya district, in the desert west of Najaf. It is estimated that 3000 victims of the Saddam regime, again mostly Kurds, will be found there, and there are expectations that some of the several hundred still missing Kuwaitis, who were abducted by the regime during its 1990 invasion, may be found in the vicinity too.
The news is not that six years after liberation mass graves containing anywhere from tens to thousands of Saddam’s victims are still being unearthed, but that in the province of Najaf alone there are 48 such sites still waiting exhumation and identification of the bodies.
Overall, some 400 mass graves have been discovered so far across Iraq, and the remains of their dead inhabitants have yet to be returned to their families. In a large number of cases, there are no families waiting for closure by collecting whatever is left of their loved ones since many of these mass graves entomb complete families. There is no one left to give them a decent burial, a name on a tombstone, or to tend the place with tears.
The insurgents, whether of the Al-Qaeda ilk or former Ba’athists, had continued Saddam’s legacy, and ‘new’ mass graves are being discovered all the time, most recently one containing twenty victims in Yusufiyyah, to the south of Baghdad—most likely Shi’a victims of the jihadists.
The inability to provoke international indignation over this legacy is the single greatest political failure of the Americans and the Iraqi government. No museums have been built, and no extensive forensic establishments to catalogue and indentify the victims have been sufficiently funded. The United Nations is nowhere to be found.
But it also the apathy and cynicism of the western media that had effectively prevented the story from being reported; nothing has been published or will be published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post about these latest finds. Even a ‘newsy’ item such as last week’s revelations by two former Saddam regime officials that they had ordered the chemical attack on Halabja in 1988 during their testimonies in the trial on that event now underway was not reported on the pages of any main U.S. newspaper. At the time, the United States government officially tried to cover up this crime of Saddam’s, one of many.
What gets reported are any arrests by the Iraqi government of ex-insurgents, many of whom were Ba’athists. Another news item getting plenty of copy involves the tensions between the newly elected neo-Ba’athist provincial council bloc in Mosul and the ethnic Kurds of the province. Vanity Fair this month will carry a long story about the failure to rehabilitate Ba’athists into Iraq’s political process.
The Ba’athists get plenty of play, but their victims are ignored. For the last three years America’s primary policy in Iraq has been to bring the Ba’athists in from the cold. The thinking was and continues to be, if only the former and present killers could be accommodated, then they would stop killing people. I wonder how cold it gets out there in the desert of Najaf at night, where haunted specters wait for a little justice; waiting and waiting and waiting .
No wonder the American and European public is still hazy about the ethics of the War To Topple Saddam, and to crush the insurgency he spawned.