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Iraq Trying To Expedite Identification Of Saddam Victims

Remains recovered from a mass grave in the Al-Samawa desert in Iraq.
Remains recovered from a mass grave in the Al-Samawa desert in Iraq.
BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi government is spending millions of dollars to develop its forensic capability so that bereaved families can give a proper burial to the tens of thousands of people whose unidentified remains have been recovered from mass graves, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Dia Karim, director of the Mass Graves Department at the Human Rights Ministry, told RFI the government has allocated 5 billion dinars (about $4.29 million) to purchase forensic equipment that will help identify human remains in mass graves discovered since the downfall of the regime of former leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.

He said his ministry will sign a memorandum of understanding with the Iraqi Institute of Forensic Medicine and the Martyrs Foundation, an independent body supported by parliament, to build a database encompassing unidentified mass grave victims.

Karim said time is of the essence, as the identification procedure relies heavily on DNA samples taken from victims' parents, who are more often than not elderly and might themselves die before identification work is completed.

Martyrs Foundation spokesman Ayub Qassim told RFI that the foundation's register lists some 50,000 persons buried in mass graves, or over 50 percent of the number of known victims killed during Hussein's long reign of more than three-decades.

Qassim said it is almost certain there are more mass graves, which have not yet been discovered.

The United Nations, the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch all estimate that Hussein's regime murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people in all parts of Iraq.

The remains of many of those '"disappeared" are now being disinterred from mass graves.

Karim said the Human Rights Ministry works in partnership with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) and draws on its expertise.

He added that Iraq wants to sign an agreement with the ICMP on training Iraqi forensic personnel.