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The horror of Saddam’s mass graves

Sayed Mahdi Almodarresi
BrookesNews.Com

Monday 24 July 2006

Jews were victims of Nazi oppression and “ethnic cleansing” the result of which was the extermination of over five million Jews. By perpetrating such a heinous crime Hitler engraved his name in history as one of the most notorious criminals who immersed himself in the blood of innocent people... We are not going to dispute that. In fact, we, more than anybody can fully grasp the agony of the holocaust.

iraqi graves
A body recovered from a mass grave in Iraq

We have had a first hand experience with the very same horrors. Freshly dug mass graves bare witness to the plight of the Shias. They have been subjected to a systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder. Iraq has once again revived those shocking memories. When Iraqi refugees return to their homeland, they no longer have hope of finding their loved ones. Any such hope has disappeared except for a very few hopefuls who dread the bitter reality of loss. The only hope that still exists in the hearts of expatriates is finding the burial site of their relatives. Perhaps also some identifiable remains.

The search for those remains has become a daily chore for thousands of Iraqis today. New mass graves are discovered almost on a daily basis. Some sites contain tens of thousands of bodies, while some are just too swarming with human remains littered on top of each other that no one bothers to keep a head count. The bare bones, broken skulls, cuffed hands and scraps of clothing tell a horrifying story. Many skeletons belong to women, some even to young children. The scene is nothing short of horrendous, and the sorrow of loved ones is utterly inexpressible.

saddam mass grave
The killed were killed, the
captured were killed, and the
injured were killed as well. No
one was spared.

Each body has a story to tell. Each person had relatives, parents, and a family that was later forced to pay for the bullets used to kill them when a bill was dispatched to each household. The state was not going to pay for their punishment. The obligatory payment was probably the hardest thing to do.

Yet those who received confirmation of their loved ones’ death were the lucky ones. Hundreds of thousands of wives, husbands, parents, and children never had any type of emotional closure. Until, that is, the infamous incarceration compounds were emptied, Bath party records were checked, and finally mass graves were excavated.

Mass graves have been found in almost every major province. Some of them are group specific (one has been found to house Dawa party members and another one for Islamic Action Organization adherents). Some are age specific. Even the children were not spared. There is no need to go into detailed descriptions of the sites and relate stories of those lucky few who fled only to tell almost unbelievable tales. The real problem lies in the fact that such stories are becoming mundane and have lost their position as the number one news story, having been breaking news items just a few days after the war.

iraqi mass graves
Two Iraqi women with the remains of
their loved ones.

For a third of a century, the Shia people of Iraq have been suffering in the confines of their own Holy Land. They have been subject to the rule of the minority, namely the Sunnis. It is no secret that Saddam and his cohorts subscribe to the Sunni sect.

On the outskirts of Tikrit is a little village named Al-Awjah (which not surprisingly translates as “The Twisted”), sparsely populated and neglected for hundreds of years by the rest of the province. Saddam was born precisely in that village in 1937 from a typical Sunni family.

It was Saddam’s rise that paved the way for his venomous sectarian hatred to be materialized. The Shias were subjected to ethnic cleansing of an unsurpassed scale. For them the punishment for political crimes started with execution and ended with a lifetime of anguish under the brutal torture apparatus of Saddam’s notorious penitentiaries. The list goes on to brutalities of detention without trial, torture, and as the west has now come to discover; mass executions and burials.

Official Iraqi documents recovered after the fall of Saddam regime suggest a staggering 5 million executions were made during Baath era alone. Over 10 million were also imprisoned. They were all Shias save a small percentage of Kurds. It is also very interesting to note that after the 1991 Shia uprising over 300,000 were killed or captured never to be seen again, but there were no injured.

hussein's mass graves
Iraqis gather human remains

This is very odd considering the logical fact that wars result in many more injuries than deaths. Under Saddam, however, people were either killed instantly or killed in mass executions soon after. With slogans such as ‘After today no more Shias’ the army had advanced into the city of Karbala. The killed were killed, the captured were killed, and the injured were killed as well. No one was spared.

Those executed by the Saddam regime were brutally murdered because they stood for an agenda, an agenda to have peace and exercise their right to freedom of religion. Now they themselves have become an agenda. We must not forget the sacrifices made by Iraqis because although liberation was eventually accomplished at the hands of the Coalition forces, they were only sowing the seeds. The Shias of Iraq paid a very dear price for its liberation, which is why their memory must be upheld at any price.

We must endeavor to permanently imprint the memory of those killed by Saddam and his regime in the hearts and minds of generations to come in order to prevent such human catastrophes from being repeated. Memorial structures and memorial museums must be erected in every major city in Iraqis well as every capital city in the western world. Names of the victims must be placed on walls lest they be forgotten.

Committees must be set up to promote the Iraqi calamity all over the world in an effort to defend the rights of the Shias in general. Their memory should be preserved to help other Shias suffering persecution elsewhere in the world. In many parts of the world Shias are prevented from practicing their rituals. Their books are banned. Their sacred sites are either demolished or inaccessible.

Saudi Arabia is one such country where it is a crime to be identified as a Shia. Although unofficial figures put their number at around 30 per cent of the total population, Shias do not have any such figures. In some cities (such as Medina) Shias conceal their faith to such an extent that even their immediate family members do not know about them. In such an atmosphere that the likes of Bin Laden were nurtured, Shias are seen as villains even before Americans.

iraqis mass graves
An Iraqi man checks a bag
containing human remains

The western world has only recently discovered the terrifying face of Wahhabi terrorism at the hands of Al-Qaeda. We, however, have had to deal with their bitter hatred for many years in Afghanistan (under the Taliban), Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Even with the number of Shias around the world approaching 400 million, the Shia faith remains not only unrecognized by many countries but is officially banned in many others.

Despite all of that it is only today that the plight of the Shias is being heard. They have been desperately crying out for help for over 30 years to no avail, but it is only after the fall of Baghdad that facts are being revealed about the nature of Saddam’s vicious apparatus. We have only recently come to discover — the hard way — that these are the remnants of a truly despotic regime. It took 30 years of pain and suffering along with millions of deaths in Iraq alone, but as the old saying goes: “Better late than never”. The long standing persecution of the Shias must now come to an end.

Almodarresi



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