BAGHDAD // A mass grave discovered in northeast Iraq contains dozens of bodies, mostly of women and children believed killed during a clamp down against Kurds by the former dictator Saddam Hussein, an Iraqi official said today. The grave was originally found nearly two years ago west of Kirkuk, though its discovery was only made public this week after forensic pathologists began examining it, said Majid Abdullah Karim, an official with the Iraqi ministry of human rights.
Investigators initially put the number of bodies found at 185, though Mr Karim said the number could be "significantly less" based on the number of bones and skulls recovered on Friday by pathologists. Mr Karim did not give an exact number, estimating only "dozens." Mass graves across Iraq have been turning up with some frequency since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. The latest discovery was made at a former military detention camp used by Saddam Hussein's forces in Tubzama, just west of Kirkuk, 290 kilometres north of Baghdad, said Mr Karim.
The grave was discovered after people reported seeing bones and bits of clothing at the camp, he added. The remains were believed to be those of Kurds killed between 1988 and 1991. Many Kurds were taken to the detention camp by Saddam Hussein's forces, he added. The bodies were determined to be mostly women and children, based on the clothing and personal items excavated at the site. The remains will be tested for DNA, and then likely will be returned to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq for full identification.
Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were killed or expelled from Iraq in the late 1980s and then again during the Kurdish uprising following the first Gulf War in 1991. Baghdad's attacks - including the use of poison gas in the Kurdish town of Halabja - came to symbolise the cruelty of Saddam Hussein's grip on power and brought the nickname "Chemical Ali" to one of the masterminds, Saddam Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid. A number of regime officials, including al-Majid, have been sentenced to death. The sentence has not been carried out yet.