BAGHDAD – A mass grave discovered in northeast Iraq contains dozens of bodies, mostly of women and children believed killed during a crackdown against Kurds by former dictator Saddam Hussein, an Iraqi official said Saturday.
The grave was originally found nearly two years ago west of Kirkuk, though its discovery was only made public this week after forensic pathologists began examining it, said Majid Abdullah Karim, an official with the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights.
Investigators initially put the number of bodies found at 185, though Karim said the number could be "significantly less" based on the number of bones and skulls recovered Friday by pathologists. Karim did not give an exact number, estimating only "dozens."
Mass graves across Iraq have been turning up with some frequency since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam's regime.
The latest discovery was made at a former military detention camp used by Saddam's forces in Tubzama, just west of Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, said Karim. The grave was discovered after people reported seeing bones and bits of clothing at the camp, he added.
The remains were believed to be those of Kurds killed between 1988 and 1991, Karim said. Many Kurds were taken to the detention camp by Saddam's forces, he added.
The bodies were determined to be mostly women and children, based on the clothing and personal items excavated at the site, Karim said.
The remains will be tested for DNA, and then likely will be returned to the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq for full identification.
Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were killed or expelled from Iraq in the late 1980s and then again during the Kurdish uprising following the first Gulf War in 1991.
Baghdad's attacks — including the use of poison gas in the Kurdish town of Halabja — came to symbolize the cruelty of Saddam's grip on power and brought the nickname "Chemical Ali" to one of the masterminds, Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid.
A number of regime officials, including al-Majid, have been sentenced to death. The sentence to date has not been carried out.