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II. Identifying the Perpetrators

There are several reasons why the events of 1999 present a unique opportunity to investigate how Saddam Hussein’s government systematically oppressed groups whom he felt threatened his rule, and al-Majid’s key role in carrying out that oppression.

First, the victims of this massacre, as well as witnesses with information about the massacre, are concentrated in and around Basra, a relatively secure area of Iraq.  In 2003, Human Rights Watch researchers were able to conduct numerous interviews with victims and eyewitnesses to gather the information provided in this report.  In addition, many of the Iraq government and Ba`th Party officials, who may have information about the uprising and subsequent crackdown in 1999, reportedly still live in and around Basra. Much of this information is still readily available for investigators working with the Iraqi Special Tribunal. The severity of the abuses perpetrated during the crackdown merits a thorough investigation by experts in criminal justice investigations, and prosecution of those responsible. 

Second, some victims of the 1999 massacre remain buried in unmarked or undisturbed gravesites. Professional forensic exhumations of these grave sites could develop further evidence that would be valuable for criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Finally, the lists of names that identified Mustafa as among those killed, along with other potential documentary evidence, also provide clues about the identities of those responsible for ordering and committing these murders—not just al-Majid, but the agents who actually carried out the executions.

The Basra Execution List

This Execution List, like similar lists that have been discovered since the fall of the former government, does not bear any insignia, letterhead, or signature. A copy of the Execution List first appeared on the bulletin board of the Imam `Ali mosque and the al-Jumhuriyya mosque in Basra immediately after the city’s occupation by British troops in April 2003.  The mosques’ custodians told Human Rights Watch that they retrieved the list from the offices of Mudiriyyat al-Amn al-`Amma, the General Security Directorate, during the general looting of government buildings that followed the arrival of British troops in Basra.4  Human Rights Watch is not aware of the chain of custody for the document; most Shi`a mosques in Basra eventually posted photocopies of the list, and copies were circulated widely among the families of those missing.  Human Rights Watch secured four pages of the list in April 2003.  Human Rights Watch knows of at least two more pages of the document containing lists of people executed. 

The four pages of the Execution List in Human Rights Watch’s possession contain the names of 120 victims in all, numbered consecutively over the four pages.  All the names are those of young men—the youngest listed was sixteen years old, the oldest thirty-six—with places of residence in and around Basra.  The four pages have the same five columns: Number, Full Name, Date of Birth, Home Address, and Notes. The pages have identical headings: “List of the names of the criminals who confessed to taking part in the event of March 17-18, 1999.”

Each page of the Execution List refers to a different date of execution for the persons listed, and the “notes” column refers to different local authorities from Basra or the southern region of Iraq, who carried out the execution. For instance, twenty-eight other names appear on the same page as Mustafa’s in neatly ruled columns, stating their names, their places of residence, dates of their execution, and the identities of the agents who carried out the actual executions—in Mustafa’s case, “the officers of the Police Directorate.” 

First page: Thirty-three men executed on March 25, 1999:

This list contains thirty-three names (numbered in the list from #1 to #33). The note reads: “On March 25, 1999, the ruling of the people was carried out against the criminals by the families of the martyrs under order of the Commander of the Southern Sector.” 5

Second page: Thirty-one men executed on April 18, 1999:

This list contains thirty-one names (numbered in the list from #34 to #64). The note reads: “On April 18, 1999, the ruling of the people was carried out against the criminals by Basra and Umm al-Ma`arik leadership and members of the ruling party under order of the Commander of the Southern Sector.”

Third page: Twenty-eight men executed on April 19, 1999:

This list contains twenty-eight names (numbered from #65 to #92). The note reads: “On April 19, 1999, the ruling of the people was carried out against the criminals by the officers of our Police Directorate.”

Fourth page: Twenty-eight men executed on May 8, 1999:

This list contains twenty-eight names (numbered from #93 to #120), including that of Mustafa Jawad. The note reads: “On May 8, 1999, the ruling of the people was carried out against the criminals by the officers of our Police Directorate.”

Information about the Perpetrators

The Execution List, if authenticated, helps to identify those who have information about the identity of perpetrators directly responsible for serious and systematic violations of human rights in Basra in 1999.   As described more fully below, the testimony of surviving victims and eyewitnesses corroborates the basic facts set out in the Execution List: namely, that dozens of men were detained by Iraqi security forces and Ba`th Party members after the al-Sadr intifada, and that dozens of men were executed summarily and en masse by security forces and party members in deserted areas in and around Basra over the space of several weeks in March, April, and May of 1999. 

Strong circumstantial support for the list’s authenticity comes from the fact that it includes the names of twenty-nine persons who were presumptively identified among remains of thirty-three people exhumed from a mass grave site in Basra.  Human Rights Watch researchers did not witness these graves being exhumed, but examination of the remains a few days after they had been removed from their original burial site revealed cloth strips on several of the bodies consistent with blindfolds and ropes that could have been used to tie hands and feet.  Several skulls visually inspected by Human Rights Watch exhibited wounds consistent with possible bullet entry.

A blindfold was found on these human remains dug up by family members at the al-Birgisia site.
(c) 2003 Human Rights Watch

Ligatures were found on these human remains dug up by family members at the al-Birgisia site.
(c) 2003 Human Rights Watch

The first two pages of the list bear notations stating that the executions were carried out by “order of the Commander of the Southern Sector.” In 1999, `Ali Hassan al-Majid held this post.  He referred to himself by this title in official Iraqi government communiqués at the time.6 Every person interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Basra in 2003 identified the “Commander of the Southern Sector” in 1999 as al-Majid. Furthermore, everyone interviewed by Human Rights Watch believed that al-Majid directly oversaw all military and security operations in southern Iraq, including Basra, during the uprising and subsequent crackdown.

Witnesses and surviving victims of the 1999 crackdown repeatedly accused Mahdi al-Dulaimi, an army officer who headed the General Security Directorate in Basra, of involvement in the murders and other crimes.  Jawad Kadhim `Ali, father of Mustafa Jawad, told Human Rights Watch:

I can give you the name of the person, who is responsible for the killings and torture that occurred in Basra. His name is Mahdi al-Dulaimi. He was the head of the Security Directorate in Basra for many years, one of the five most important prosecutors in Iraq. Saddam Hussein very much relied on him. I do not know his current whereabouts. He was one of Chemical ‘Ali’s subordinates. … Mahdi reported directly to Chemical `Ali.7

Sayyid Haidar al-Hassan, a religious and community leader from the al-Jumhuriyya mosque, also pointed to Mahdi al-Dulaimi as possibly culpable for, and certainly knowledgeable about, the 1999 massacre:

He had been in Basra since long ago. He knew everything about Basra and the people of Basra. He was a criminal in the past. He had tracked down the Islamic movement in Basra since the beginning of the 1970s and developed his own method for getting confessions. He used all kinds of horrible instruments of torture. Sometimes he used members of a family [to torture other members of the same family].8

The Execution List also provides possible evidence of the identity of the agents who physically carried out the execution orders. “On March 25, 1999,” reads the first page of the list, “the ruling of the people was carried out against the criminals by the families of the martyrs.” This suggests that relatives of Ba`th Party members killed during the uprising may have been given the first opportunity to exact revenge.  Investigators for the Iraqi Special Tribunal or other tribunals should attempt to ascertain the identity of those Ba`th Party members killed during the uprising through archival and eyewitness testimony, thus helping to identify which families may have had a hand in carrying out the 1999 massacres.

Another group implicated in the massacre is senior Ba`th Party members from the Basra area. According to the list, the thirty victims killed on April 18 were murdered by Basra and Umm al-Ma`arik leadership and members of the ruling party.”  Archival evidence about the membership of the Ba`th Party, particularly at the leadership levels, can be used to establish a list of suspects for questioning about their involvement with these killings.  Numerous witnesses from Basra and its environs who were involved with the Ba`th Party can provide information about its leadership structure.

Similarly, the list indicates that fifty-five other young men were killed on April 19 and May 8, 1999 by “the officers of our Police Directorate.”  The members of the police force were known and can be identified on the basis of staffing and organizational charts.  They should be questioned regarding their role in the events of 1999.

Dozens of Basra residents generally confirmed that Ba`th Party members and police and security officers arrested, detained, tortured, and executed persons suspected of participating in the uprising and their families.  During the course of its investigation, Human Rights Watch was able to obtain names of many Iraqi officials implicated in the mass arrest and execution campaign following the al-Sadr intifada.  Because Human Rights Watch could not independently corroborate the identification of those perpetrators, Human Rights Watch cannot release the names of these suspected perpetrators.  Identifying the officials who were responsible for the mass executions will require additional investigations, but it is clear that there is sufficient evidence to establish who many of the perpetrators were. 

British troops in Basra have conducted preliminary investigations at some mass gravesites by photographing graves and taking witness statements.9  As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, no comprehensive investigation has yet been undertaken into the al-Sadr uprising and the identity of those responsible for crushing it.

[4] Interview, Sayyid Hassan al-Haidar (his real name), al-Jumhuriyya mosque, April 24, 2003.

[5] The term “martyrs” here most likely refers to members of the Ba`th Party who were killed during the uprising.

[6] See, for instance, Republic of Iraq Radio [via BBC Monitoring Service], “Commander of southern region informs Saddam of bringing down of plane,” Dec. 30, 1998 (text of official communiqué in which al-Majid signed his name as “Commander of the Southern Sector”).

[7] Human Rights Watch interview, May 8, 2003, Basra, Tanuma neighborhood.

[8] Human Rights Watch interview with Haidar al-Hassan, May 13, 2003, Basra, al-Jumhuriyya mosque.

[9]  Based on a visit by Physicians for Human Rights to Basra, June 2, 2003.

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