In a new 14-page report, "The Mass Graves of al-Mahawil: The Truth Uncovered," Human Rights Watch provided the first independent documentation of how the Iraqi government suppressed the Shi`a uprising after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
Family members of victims have so far claimed nearly one thousand of the thousands of bodies uncovered at and near the al-Mahawil military base just north of the southern Iraqi city of al-Hilla. They told Human Rights Watch researchers that Iraqi security forces had "disappeared" the missing relatives after apprehending them at roadblocks or in house-to-house searches following the collapse of the popular uprising that swept the area as Iraqi forces retreated from Kuwait.
"These burial pits were unearthed in such a chaotic manner, it's going to be virtually impossible to identify many of the remains," said Peter Bouckaert, senior emergencies researcher for Human Rights Watch. "The United States should do much more to secure mass grave sites and help local community leaders set up a proper exhumation process."
Human Rights Watch researchers spent four days at the al-Hilla grave sites collecting evidence and interviewing relatives of victims, local witnesses, and the survivor, a young man who was twelve years old at the time and was dumped into a mass grave with his mother and two other relatives.
"The U.S. authorities had every reason to anticipate that protection of mass grave sites would be an urgent matter," Bouckaert said. "Yet they made no effort to enlist local authorities to establish a mechanism that could help Iraqis recover their loved ones with dignity and also preserve evidence that might convict those responsible for these enormous crimes."
To read the report, please see: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/iraq0503/