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Iraqis Mourn at 15,000 Person Mass Grave

Tearful, sometimes distraught Iraqi villagers combed a mass grave Wednesday for the remains of loved ones executed a dozen years ago on the orders of former President Saddam Hussein. As David Cohler reports, the grave is the largest uncovered so far, and may contain as many as 15,000 bodies.


It's been more than 12 years since this woman last saw her husband. She and hundreds of other villagers came to this mass grave at Hillah, 100 kilometers south of Baghdad, to learn if this is where ex-President Saddam Hussein disposed of their relatives. For several thousand people, the hard, cruel answer was Yes. One woman was so overcome with grief that she flung herself atop what she had just learned were the partial remains of a loved one.

The gut-wrenching drama was replayed many, many times Wednesday - friends and relatives of Saddam Hussein's murdered enemies, both real and imagined, sifting through bones, pieces of clothing, and faded, disintegrating identity papers.

This man, a nearby resident, says the executions at this spot went on from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon - every day - from March 1st through April 6th, 1991. He estimates 10 to 15,000 people were killed here. Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, expressed outrage:

[Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress]
"Where is Amnesty International? Where is Human Rights Watch? Where is the German chancellor who tried to save Saddam from the war? Where is President Chirac? Where are all these people? We want this to be documented."

As it turned out, Peter Bouckhaert of Human Rights Watch was on hand to document this site and others:

[Peter Bouckhaert, Human Rights Watch]
"I've talked to dozens of relatives at these mass graves who haven't had a single shred of news about their missing relatives since 1991 and at other mass sites since the 1980's. It's unfortunate that people will walk away still not knowing what happened to their relatives from these mass grave sites in the end."

In the Southern Iraqi city of Basra Wednesday, there were funeral ceremonies for other murdered victims of the Saddam regime - their bodies found at a nearby mass gravesite at al-Barjasiya. But the coffins will not be buried here. The victims were Shi'ites, and they will be buried near the holy city of Najaf.