Iraq starts exhuming a mass grave in Sinjar region
16 Mar 2019
Workers start the exhumation process of a mass grave in Iraq’s Sinjar region. Associated Press
The Iraqi government has started exhuming a mass grave left behind by the Daesh group in the northwestern Sinjar region in the presence of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad, whose slain relatives are believed to have been buried in the area.
The exhumation, which is being carried out with UN support, began on Friday in the village of Kocho. Murad’s official website said it marks the first exhumation of a mass grave containing the remains of Yazidis, a religious minority targeted for extermination by the extremists.
Daesh militants rampaged across Sinjar in 2014, killing Yazidi men and abducting thousands of women and children. Many followers of the minority faith are still missing, after women were forced into sexual slavery and boys were indoctrinated in militant ideology.
“I pay my condolence to the Yazidis and the whole humanity. There is not a single Yazidi family that didn’t taste the bitterness of this extermination,” said Murad. “They all lost their loved ones, their properties and their dreams, and especially in this village,” she said.
Murad was one of an estimated 3,000 Yazidi women and girls who were kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. She was raped, beaten and tortured before she managed to escape after three months in captivity.
Over 70 mass graves have been discovered in Sinjar since it was liberated from Daesh in November 2015.
In November, UN investigators said they have verified the location of more than 200 mass grave sites from the time of Daesh rule in northern Iraq, containing the bodies of between 6,000 and 12,000 victims. Nada Selo, an activist from Kocho, lamented the slow pace of efforts to identify and recover victims.
“Negligence has been going on for four years and until now. The people were hoping during all this time to see their relatives alive. So honestly, this is a huge disappointment for us as Yazidis, and it is a real tragedy,” she said.
A statement issued earlier this week by Murad, global Yazidi NGO Yazda and their joint legal counsel Amal Clooney welcomed the process in Kocho. They expressed hope it would be part of a “comprehensive effort which will result in the exhumation of all Daesh mass graves in Sinjar and beyond, the return of victims’ remains to their families and the investigation of the relevant crimes, leading to the prosecution of the responsible Daesh militants.” Daesh persecuted religious minorities in the areas it once ruled in Syria and Iraq.
The group is on the verge of losing the last area it controls in Syria as US-backed fighters squeeze the extremists in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border. Over the past months a number of Yazidi women and children have been freed in eastern Syria.
The United Nations has said Daesh’s actions could amount to genocide, and is investigating the extremist group’s atrocities across Iraq.
Murad called at Friday’s event for Iraq’s central authorities and those in the Kurdistan region to “protect the mass graves” so that proof could be found of the “genocide of the Yazidis”.
“There will not be reconciliation with the Arab tribes of our region if their dignitaries don’t give the names of those who carried out the crimes so they can be judged,” she said.
The head of the UN investigative team Karim Khan said the exhumation marked an “important moment” for the probe, with 73 mass graves discovered so far in Sinjar alone.
“The road towards accountability is a long one, and many challenges lay ahead,” he said in a statement.
“Notwithstanding this, the spirit of cooperation between the survivor community and the government of Iraq is to be applauded.”
Daesh is currently battling to defend the last shred of its crumbling “caliphate” across the border Syria in the face of Kurdish-led forces backed by an international coalition.
Separately, two Turkish soldiers were killed and eight others were wounded on Saturday in a clash during operations into northern Iraq, Turkey’s defence ministry said.
Six militants, including a woman, were “neutralised” during the operations, the ministry said in a statement. The Turkish army uses the term neutralise when it has killed, captured or wounded combatants Turkey regularly carries out air strikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq, as President Tayyip Erdogan pursues his aim of ending the militant group’s presence near Turkey’s borders.