Saddam’s Mass Graves

Today’s NYT covers a team excavating one of Saddam Hussein’s many mass graves.

Saddam's Mass Graves Photo 1 Raid Juhi, chief investigative judge for the Iraqi court now trying Mr. Hussein in another case, said during a visit here on Saturday that the court had documentary evidence, and statements from witnesses, showing that at least 100,000 Shiites, and possibly 180,000, died in the 1991 repression.

The trial of Mr. Hussein and his associates for what is known among the Shiites as the “intifada,” or rebellion, could be still a year or more off. The Iraqi tribunal has only one courtroom, in Mr. Hussein’s old Baath Party headquarters in Baghdad. The first trial in a series planned for the ousted Iraqi dictator, involving the brutal aftermath of a failed assassination attempt in 1982 against Mr. Hussein in the mainly Shiite town of Dujail, is not expected to end before late summer.

The tribunal will then hear a second case, involving accusations that 50,000 Kurds were killed in what is called the Anfal offensive, which reached its peak in 1988.


Saddam's Mass Graves Photo 2 The proximity of the rebel threat here echoes the events of 1991, when Mr. Hussein, in Baghdad, quickly marshaled the death squads that spread out across Iraq’s southern provinces to extinguish the Shiite uprising. Of the 200 mass graves the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry has registered in the three years since the American-led invasion, the majority are in the south. One, at Mahawil, about 50 miles south of Baghdad, is believed to hold as many as 10,000 to 15,000 victims, Mr. Juhi said.

Two other sites, one at Hatra, near Mosul in the north, and another at Muthanna, near the southern city of Samawa, have been exhaustively examined by Mr. Trimble’s team. The remains of more than 300 victims from those locations, killed during the Anfal campaign, are stored in chilled containers at a high-technology laboratory at the Baghdad international airport.

Such stories are a useful reminder of what Iraq was like before the Coalition invasion. As horrible as Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and other crimes committed under our watch may be, they are isolated and the offenders being investigated and punished by our government. That’s in rather stark contrast to systematic slaughter carried out as a matter of government policy.

Update: Cori Dauber notes that “this front-page, above the fold story” is in stark contrast to the general media indifference to Saddam’s atrocities and ongoing trial. Ditto the proprietor of Blue Crab Boulevard, who snarks, “Not exactly the happy, kite-flying place Michael Moore likes to talk about, was it?”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Andy Vance says:

    Hey, that’s some pretty good spinnin’. I’ll try it on my wife tonight: “Honey, your cooking is way better than Ed Gein’s!”

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    People like Andy Vance should be forced to go to Iraq to exhume graves in the mass grave areas. Andy, the only spin, is yours from doing too much meth. I wonder what it takes for idiots to believe Saddam was the butcher that he was? Unless it is Bush’s fault, they don’t believe it. Dumb, very very dumb.

  3. Andy Vance says:

    People like Andy Vance should be forced to go to Iraq to exhume graves

    I’m hep to that. But only if you try my wife’s cooking first.

  4. anjin-san says:

    No one on the left doubts that Saddam was a mudering bastard. The question is, is it an improvement that people in Iraq are now dying in a war we started instead of being killed by Saddam?

  5. LJD says:

    Are you really that stupid Anjin?

    Did you really just ask if it is better for Saddam to torture and kill them wholesale, or for them to be able to fight and kill eachother?

  6. McGehee says:

    Are you really that stupid Anjin?

    Is this a trick question?