SAMAWA (Dispatches) – Iraq must never forget Saddam Hussein’s crimes or allow his party to return, President Barham Salih said on Sunday after attending the unearthing of a mass grave of Kurds killed by the former dictator’s forces three decades ago.
The grave, found in the desert about 170 km (106 miles) west of the city of Samawa, contained the remains of dozens of Kurds made to "disappear” by Saddam’s forces, Salih’s office said.
They were among up to 180,000 people who may have been killed during Saddam’s "Anfal” campaign that targeted Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s when chemical gas was used, villages were razed and thousands of Kurds were forced into camps.
"He killed them because they did not accept the continuation of this regime, because they wanted to live a free and dignified life,” Salih, a Kurd, told a news conference at the grave site.
"He brought them to Samawa to bury them but our people in Samawa embraced them,” Salih added. Iraq’s southern provinces are predominantly inhabited by Shia Arabs, who also suffered oppression and mass killings under Saddam.
"The new Iraq must never forget these crimes that were committed against Iraqi people from all groups,” he said.
Farqan Sahib, a volunteer working at the site of the discovery, told Kurdish-language Rudaw television news network that he had seen the remains of a mother with "a baby in her arms and another next to her.”
The Anfal campaign took place over eight phases, beginning in 1986, reaching its peak in 1988, and culminating in the closing weeks of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88).
After the collapse of the Ba’athist regime in 2003, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) coordinated with Iraqi officials to uncover graves containing bodies of Kurds killed by the former leader's forces with the help of local witnesses.
Between 2003 and 2018, more than 2,500 bodies were discovered and repatriated to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, said Rebwar Ramazan, a Kurdish official.