BAGHDAD, Iraq – In the latest in a series of grisly discoveries, the U.S. military said Thursday it found another mass grave — this one in northern Iraq and thought to contain the bodies of up to 400 Kurdish women and children slain by Saddam Hussein's regime.
Some 25 sets of remains — all women and children — have been pulled from the grave, each with a bullet hole in the skull. The military said the size of the area leads them to believe the site contains between 200 and 400 bodies.
Since the end of the Iraq war, at least 60 mass graves, some with hundreds of corpses, have been discovered. The United Nations (search) is investigating the killing or disappearance of at least 300,000 Iraqis believed murdered during Saddam's regime.
With the finding of the mass graves, the U.S. and British militaries, the Red Cross (search) and some small humanitarian groups specializing in battlefield pathology have been involved in a behind-the-scenes dispute: Should the dead be used as evidence for war crimes trials, or should they be identified and returned to their families?
Either task would be costly. Doing one might damage the prospects for performing the other, and accomplishing both might be prohibitively expensive and logistically impossible. Another option is to do little or nothing, which is currently the status quo.
The United States has deployed a British humanitarian group called Inforce, which specializes in collecting war crimes evidence from massacre sites, to look at about 15 of the graves. If Iraqis request it, they are allowed to search for loved ones.
The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross favors identifying the dead and returning the remains to the families. Yet the organization is torn internally over whether to take on a job that falls within its charter but might drain its resources.