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Iraq: RFI Interviews Kurdish Human Rights Minister

The Barzani reburial ceremony in Irbil on 17 October (AFP) On 17 October 2005, 512 bodies of Barzani tribesmen deported and killed in 1982 were returned to Irbil from mass graves in southern Iraq to Kurdistan where they will receive a fitting burial. The same day, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed Muhammad Ihsan Ramadan, minister of human rights in the Kurdistan Regional Government, whose ministry has been in charge of transferring the bodies.

Ramadan: This is a result of two years' earnest work by several agencies that have interviewed eyewitnesses and people who worked for the regime, serious fact-finding, and visits to the sites of mass graves. We have managed to uncover the mass graves and to identify the bodies. We have documented approximately 284 mass graves relevant to Kurds. We started with a documentation visit at the mass grave of the Barzanis because it was located in the most distant place of Iraq [in the desert, close to the borders with Saudi Arabia] and they were among the first victims of the widespread killing practiced by Saddam Hussein's regime. These 512 bodies are the first group [of relics of the Barzanis, arriving for burial in Kurdistan].

A complete criminal investigation, in accordance with both Iraqi and international standards to be applied in he trial of Saddam Hussein, must set an end to the waiting of the families that has lasted for over 23 years.

RFI: Was the timing of returning the Barzani men's bodies coordinated with the beginning of the Saddam Hussein trial?

Ramadan: I do not think this has been planned. We were eager to see Saddam Hussein before trial one day, and the files of the [killing of the] Barzanis and the [anti-Kurdish policy known as] Anfal are among the crucial files in the trial with Saddam Hussein.

RFI: Will the Kurdistan Regional Government try to return the bodies of all known victims of the Anfal campaign to Kurdistan?

Ramadan: There is absolutely no doubt about that. All the victims of Anfal, all bodies that are found [should be returned to Kurdistan]. We have searching for the bodies and returning them to their families, and providing them with a proper burial. This operation has continued despite all possible difficulties and risks but it is our moral, political, and also legal responsibility.

RFI: Has each body [of the Barzanis] been identified?

Ramadan: Very, very few of them. Based on their clothes and [other distinctive features], it has generally been determined that they are from a particular area, most of them belonging to Barzani [tribal confederation]. There has been a group of fairly many [who have been identified].

RFI: Are the perpetrators of these acts known?

Ramadan: Yes, all the people who took part in the actions [are known]: from drivers to those who were covering the graves up, and from supervisors to those who were fulfilling their commands. There has been a whole dossier [of names], starting with the apex of the pyramid and ending with the tanker driver who was threatening the [victims] and collecting money from them.

RFI: Will this ceremony of returning the bodies have a wider impact?

Ramadan: I believe that this kind of ceremonies should be [reflected] everywhere in Iraq, on all levels. These issues of injustice must be revisited so that we have justice in Iraq. We will forever continue to pursue the people who had some position in this [legal] case.

Let people come and see the mass graves. If they are [after that] proud of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party rule, that would mean that they are alien to all human values and to their own humanity.

(Translation by Petr Kubalek and Faris Omar)