BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – The Kurdish woman was killed by a single shot to the back of her head as she knelt at the edge of a mass grave clutching the body of her infant child.
In some of the most graphic evidence at Saddam Hussein’s trial for genocide against ethnic Kurds, a U.S. forensics expert told on Thursday how he found the remains of hundreds of women and children in three mass graves in northern and southern Iraq.
The woman and her baby were among 25 women and 98 children, some blindfolded, exhumed from a grave in northern Nineveh province, said Sonny Trimble of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. All had pistol shots to the back of the head and were killed as they stood in the grave or knelt at its edge. He showed the court a picture of the baby, who was wrapped in a blanket in its mother’s arms when they were both shot.
A skeletal hand in the photo was the mother’s, he said, found in the blanket when it was excavated, suggesting she had still been holding her baby as her lifeless body pitched forward into the grave. She had been carrying a spool of thread, a comb, a tin of face cream and a tube of children’s antibiotic. “The individuals were taken by force from their villages … to a remote desert location. Large earth-moving equipment was used to prepare large graves,” Trimble said.
The American heads the multi-national Mass Graves Investigation Team that has spent the past two years analysing remains excavated from graves that were often deliberately hidden in natural geographic features like wadis. “The primary thing I want to point out to the court is that the number of children is 61 percent of the individuals in the three graves,” said Trimble.
Saddam and six former commanders are on trial for genocide in the Anfal, “Spoils of War”, campaign in 1988. Prosecutors say up to 180,000 people died, many killed in poison gas attacks or executed and dumped in mass graves.
Prosecutors have said the case, which is separate from a trial in which Saddam was sentenced to death earlier this month, would rely heavily on forensic evidence to prove the guilt of the former Iraqi leader and his co-defendants.
The defendants argue that Anfal was a legitimate military operation against Kurdish rebels who were siding against Iraq’s Iranian foe during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.