Terrorism

Iraq begins investigating missing persons in Mosul

By Khalid al-Taie

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Iraqi experts excavate a mass grave of civilians killed by the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' in western Mosul. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Martyrs Foundation]

Iraqi authorities on Friday (July 13th) began investigating the fate of Mosul residents who went missing during the battles to retake the city from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

Since the liberation of Mosul in July last year, the Ninawa provincial council has received numerous reports from residents who lost track of their relatives before and during the liberation campaign, Ninawa provincial council services committee member Hosam Eddin al-Abbar told Diyaruna.

"Many of the missing persons were held in secret prisons and detention centres for various reasons, mostly related to opposing ISIS's ideology and monstrous actions," he said.

"We initially set up an operations room in Ninawa to collect all information regarding the identities of the missing persons, including their full name, age and date of disappearance," he said.

"We have so far collected complete information on around 1,400 missing persons," said al-Abbar.

"We have forwarded their cases in three batches to the government, the [Iraqi] High Commission for Human Rights and other human rights' committees and bodies, as we have already raised this issue with them in the past," he said.

"Relevant government and security authorities informed us today that they have begun to investigate the fate of those missing persons," he said.

The results of the investigation should be presented within two weeks, he added.

Thousands of victims

Before the start of the battle for Mosul, ISIS held the civilians who opposed it in secret prisons, killing them in batches, and sometimes publishing the names of those executed.

These execution campaigns have led to the deaths of thousands of civilians, former military personnel and government employees, who were randomly buried in mass graves.

The al-Khasfa grave in the area of ​​Hammam al-Alil in southern Mosul is the largest such grave to be discovered.

Al-Khasfa is one of the most notorious mass graves uncovered to date, with unofficial estimates indicating it contains the remains of 25,000 bodies.

"This grave is a 180-metre-deep sinkhole in which terrorists used to throw their victims," al-Abbar said.

"We believe that there are thousands of victims buried there," he said, noting that it is currently difficult to excavate the grave as ISIS has placed the victims under tonnes of rubble and debris.

In the aftermath of the war, Iraqi civil defence teams recovered hundreds of bodies from under the rubble of destroyed buildings in western Mosul, specifically in the Old City.

The extractions were carried out based on reports from local residents who had lost their loved ones or who knew people who had gone missing.

By the start of 2018, residents had completed submitting reports on missing persons. Any corpse found in the rubble after that, which is not registered in any missing people report, is classified as "unidentified", al-Abbar said.

"The difficulty today resides in identifying these hundreds of unregistered exhumed bodies," he said. "Are they missing civilians or ISIS fighters or their family members?"

"This is another issue that we must also resolve quickly," he added.

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