April 8, 2004

Legacy of Terror: The Mass Graves

From the mass grave at Musayib, Iraq

Heard of some gravesites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

-- Talking Heads, Life During Wartime

From USAID, a short but chlling brochure , Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves, combines facts, maps, survivor stories, and graphic images. Available as a PDF from the link above.

Since the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown in May, 270 mass graves have been reported. By mid-January, 2004, the number of confirmed sites climbed to fifty-three. Some graves hold a few dozen bodies -- their arms lashed together and the bullet holes in the backs of skulls testimony to their execution. Other graves go on for hundreds of meters, densely packed with thousands of bodies.
Here's one of the survivors' stories.

Ali,* 36, an aircraft mechanic, was driving his family from Al Hillah to his farm in Mahawil on March 6, 1991, during the Shiite uprising after the end of the Gulf War. The city was being bombed. Ali was stopped at a military checkpoint outside the city near a brick factory and ordered to get out. His wife, newborn baby, and handicapped mother were ordered to drive away. Ali was ordered to remove his jacket, and uniformed men tied his hands and feet with his jacket and pieces of cloth and placed a blindfold over his eyes. Ali could still see through the blindfold, however, and saw about 12 other people, including men, women, children, and elderly, pulled from cars, bound, and blindfolded. They were dragged to a white Toyota Land Cruiser and piled on top of each other over the seats. No words were spoken, because when others attempted to speak they received severe blows to the head and body. It was approximately 10 a.m. when they arrived at the Mahawil military camp on the outskirts of the city. There they were unloaded, registered, and escorted into a large assembly hall filled with approximately 200 people.

Everyone was sitting on the floor with their hands and feet tied. They were blindfolded and positioned facing the walls.

Ali was placed near the door and could see outside. At about 4:30 p.m., the military men built a large ring of tires about 20 feet wide and set it on fire. Next to the fire were large buses, and the soldiers began escorting people from the hall to the buses. At this time, people were also being carried out of the hall and thrown into the fire. Ali believes that because the military was in a hurry to execute them and not everyone would fit on the buses, they decided to burn some people alive. After about 30 minutes of witnessing this, he was escorted from the hall and loaded onto a bus.

At approximately 6 p.m., they were taken on a short drive to a swampy area behind the brick factory. It was dark and he saw headlights in front of the buses. He believes the lights were headlights from the Land Cruisers driven by

Saddam’s men. He could hear shots but not voices. Ali was paralyzed with fear. Everyone in the bus was blindfolded. After about 15 minutes, the bus in front of his drove away and the headlights were directly on his bus. They pulled seven to 10 people off the bus. Shots rang out. Ali’s group was the next to be pulled from the bus. In his group was a blind man, three brothers, a woman, and her five year old son. The group was led to the front of the bus where the headlights were directly on them.

They were pushed to the ground and then were pulled up one at a time to be executed. They were pushed a couple of feet to the edge of the swamp and shot. Most would fall before being shot because they were over-come with fear. Ali does not remember any words being spoken—except the plea of the three brothers who begged that at least one be spared. They were executed one at a time. Next, the woman was shot in front of her five-year-old child. The child lunged at the legs of the executioner and was kicked away and shot in the face. The blind man was then executed and his chest exploded on Ali. There were three executioners. They took turns shooting and reloading. Ali was last in the group to be shot, and the soldier who was to execute Ali shot between his legs. The soldier was then shot dead by another soldier. During this commotion, Ali turned to the swamp, jumped over bodies, and ran through the water. They shot after him. He was hit in the left hand and foot and fell, breaking his nose. He continued on and made it to the other side of the swamp. A tractor with soldiers came in his direction looking for him, so he tossed his robe into the water and hid in a thicket of cane. The soldiers saw his robe and sprayed it with bullets thinking they had shot him. A bulldozer appeared next and began shoveling dirt on it to cover what they thought was his body. Ali was very near and was knocked unconscious by falling rocks, but he was not completely buried. When the bulldozer left, he pulled himself out of the dirt and crawled to an empty canal. He could still hear shots in the distance: a third bus had arrived during his escape. Ali crawled through the canal for about 30 minutes, making his way to a farmhouse. He knocked on the door, and was taken in by the family, which told him later that he “was a piece of blood.” He doesn’t remember
much about the care they provided him except for the yogurt they fed him and the heater they placed near him. The family knew his uncles, so they clothed him, gave him a donkey and a cane, and told him to follow the canal to an uncle’s house. Ali made it there, and his uncle cleaned him and took him to Baghdad the next day. He hid there for one month without telling anyone except his uncle. He returned home to discover his two brothers had been executed in similar roundups. He left the neighborhood and changed his identity. He was also protected by an intelligence officer in his neighborhood. When Saddam was toppled, he resumed his identity after having been in hiding for over 12 years. He is a member of the Human Rights Association of Al Hillah.

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Posted by Vanderleun at April 8, 2004 12:54 PM | TrackBack
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