ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) visited the Iraqi southern province of Muthanna on Sunday to follow up on the discovery of Kurdish mass graves in the area, dating back to the era of Saddam Hussein.
The Kurdish delegates were led by KRG deputy Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs, Baravan Hamdi, to meet with the Governor of Muthanna, Ahmed Menfi.
The visit comes after Iraqi authorities in the province found several mass graves in April, which they believe contain the remains of Kurds killed during the former Baathist regime’s deadly Anfal campaign.
In the 1980s, the government of Saddam Hussein undertook a campaign of genocide against the Kurds in the north. Spearheaded by the infamous Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali," the operation led to the deaths of up to 182,000 ethnic Kurds.
Many were forcibly displaced to other parts of the country and held in specialized camps before being summarily executed and buried in large groups.
“The purpose of the KRG delegation’s visit is to examine the mass graves and begin the process of exhumation within the [Iraqi] legal framework,” Nabil Kamil, Chief of Staff to the Muthanna Governor, told Kurdistan 24 during the meeting.
He mentioned that, so far, three mass graves containing the remains of hundreds of people were unearthed. Searches of other similar graves are ongoing.
A member of the KRG delegation stated that while they did come to witness the mass graves themselves, the process of exhuming the remains would only start after Ramadan.
Following the meeting, Hamdi and Menfi held a joint press conference.
Hamdi noted they are working in close coordination with the Iraqi federal government and authorities in Muthanna regarding the exhumation of the bodies and mass graves.
He told reporters they are in talks with international organizations to standardize the process “at an international level.”
Hamdi added they have requested to access the international team of experts who are currently working on Yezidi mass graves in Sinjar (Shingal) under UN supervision.
He stated that following the exhumation, the bodies would be returned to the Kurdistan Region to be buried in their hometowns.
Asked how authorities discovered the mass graves in Muthanna decades later, Menfi claimed heavy rainfall in the past few months had swept through many desert areas in the province, bringing human remains to the surface.
Two months ago, Menfi met in Erbil with Masoud Barzani, the President of the leading Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the former President of the Kurdistan Region, and discussed the unearthing of mass graves among other topics.
The whereabouts of dozens of thousands of Kurdish people remain unknown following the Anfal campaign of the 1980s.
Decades have passed since the genocidal campaign was carried out against the Kurds. However, families still hold hope their relatives will someday return home.
Editing by Nadia Riva