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2/23/04 - MASS GRAVES IN IRAQ - 2004-02-23

A year ago, Iraq’s only law was the whim of Saddam Hussein. Today, the U.S.-led coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law with a bill of rights. President George W. Bush says that Iraqis are “making daily progress toward democracy”:

“Iraq’s citizens do not have to fear the dictator’s secret police, or ending up in a mass grave. The torture chambers are closed. Of the top fifty-five officials of the former regime, we have captured or killed forty-six.”

Saddam Hussein’s crimes against the Iraqi people are being carefully investigated. Since the regime was overthrown in May 2003, two-hundred-seventy mass grave sites have been reported. By mid-January 2004, investigators had confirmed more than fifty. Some hold a few dozen bodies, their arms lashed together and bullet holes in the backs of skulls. Other graves go on for hundreds of meters, packed with thousands of bodies.

The dead include Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. Egyptians, Kuwaitis, and Iranians were also murdered.

Settar Khalaf, a cattle herder, told investigators from Human Rights Watch about a site near the city of Basra. Mr. Khalaf said that in the spring of 1999 he saw a bulldozer dig three trenches. The next day he said he saw buses unload eighty to one-hundred people. The prisoners were lined up along the trenches and shot. The bulldozer covered the bodies with dirt.

The U.S. the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch estimate that the Saddam Hussein regime murdered hundreds of thousands. A report issued by the U.S. Agency for International Development says that, “If these numbers prove accurate, they represent a crime against humanity surpassed only by the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Pol Pot’s Cambodian killing fields in the nineteen-seventies, and the [German] Nazi Holocaust [against European Jews] of World War Two.”