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Iraq To Open Center To Identify Hussein-Era Remains

It has been estimated that more than 100,000 bodies have been found in mass graves in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
BAGHDAD -- Iraq's Human Rights Ministry has decided to create a center tasked with identifying the thousands of unidentified bodies found in Saddam Hussein-era mass graves in Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Human Rights Ministry spokesman Kamil Amin told RFI on September 20 that the unresolved situation has pushed the ministry to establish the special center, which will work with other ministries and health institutions to identify the remains from mass graves.

"This is a huge and very ambitious project that will need governmental and political support," Amin said. "We also asked many other countries with similar experiences for help, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina," he added.

The Hussein regime used to arbitrarily arrest, torture, and often kill and bury anyone suspected of being an opponent of the government.

Eyewitnesses in recent years have said that some people were even buried alive, especially during the 1991 revolt that took place after the Iraqi army was forced out of Kuwait.

More Than 100,000 Bodies

Some estimates put the number of bodies found in mass graves since the fall of Hussein's regime in 2003 at more than 100,000. A number of experts think there are many more thousands still to be uncovered.

Salah Muhammad, 25, is married and has three children. He told RFI that he has wondered where his father is since 1991, when he was taken away from his family.

Muhammad said he has been told by Iraqi officials that his father was executed and buried in one of the Hussein-era mass graves that are systematically uncovered several times a year.

Muhammad said he remembers the day when security agents entered their house by force and took away his father, who was a teacher, accusing him of being a member of the banned Al-Dawah party.

"I was still a child at that time," he told RFI, "but to this day, I am unable to forget this scene of those men dragging my father away, forcing him into a car. This was the last time I saw him," he said with tears in his eyes.

Muhammad said he searches everywhere for his father, including in every new mass grave that is discovered. But he said this is a very difficult and frustrating task.

"All the remains and bodies are lacking any ID proving who they are," he said. "How can they expect anyone to identify the missing loved ones [we are] looking for?"

Muhammad's story is one of many thousands of similar stories of Iraqis still seeking the bodies of missing relatives.