Iraqi authorities said Sunday that the remains of 123 people killed by jihadists from the Islamic State group had been removed from a mass grave in an attempt to identify them.
The Badush prison massacre was one of the worst crimes committed by the Islamic State after it seized control of a third of Iraq in a blitzkrieg in 2014.
In June of that year, IS fighters attacked the northwestern prison, released Sunni Muslim inmates and forced 583 prisoners, mostly Shiites, into trucks, before taking them into a ravine and shoot them.
In recent weeks, dozens of relatives of the victims have provided blood samples, which will be compared with the DNA of the remains, which were found in mass graves in 2017.
“Thousands of families are waiting to know what happened to their relatives,” Najm al-Jubburi, governor of Nineveh province, where the prison is located, told AFP.
The mass grave, discovered after Iraqi forces seized control of the area in March 2017, is one of more than 200 the extremist group left behind in its rampage of brutality, according to the United Nations.
The remains of up to 12,000 people are believed to be buried in these graves, says the UN, which has accused ISIS of having committed genocide in Iraq.
One of those awaiting closure in Iraq is Abbas Mohammed, whose son was imprisoned in Badush after his arrest by US forces in 2005.
“After 17 years of not knowing if my son is alive or dead, I need an answer,” he told AFP.
Iraq has been struggling to identify the remains of people from various violent episodes in its recent history, and is still uncovering mass graves from the regime of the executed dictator Saddam Hussein.
The task has been challenging, as the remains have often been burned or exposed to the elements over the years.
“The working conditions are difficult,” said Saleh Ahmed, a member of the government commission charged with identifying the “martyrs,” at the Badush mass grave site.
“The heat is overwhelming. Some remains are tangled and there are snakes and scorpions everywhere, ”he said, as 30 workers carried out the grim task of removing the bodies from the grave.