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Iraq's Kurds get moment of closure on eve of Hussein trial

A mass burial lays to rest 512 of the 8,000 men taken away by Iraqi forces in 1983.

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One by one, they came. And they came. The flag-draped coffins kept coming for more than an hour Monday as Iraqi Kurds for the first time held a mass burial for victims of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The 512 coffins - each carried by an honor guard of Kurdish soldiers - represent a fraction of the estimated 8,000 Kurds reported slaughtered by the Iraqi government in August 1983. That infamous event was followed by a government campaign in the late 1980s that wiped out 4,000 Kurdish villages.

The funeral, held two days before the opening of Mr. Hussein's trial in Baghdad, marks a rare moment of collective closure for Iraq's Kurds. But some here would like to take that process a step further - to see Hussein convicted of his government's crimes against Kurds, who bore the brunt of the regime's cruelty.

The Iraqi Special Tribunal will begin by examining the 1982 killing of some 140 Shiite men from Dujail after Hussein survived an assassination attempt in the same town. While the Dujail case alone may yield the death penalty, the Kurds of northern Iraq say they wish the first case to be tried could be a Kurdish one.

"My father, I am sure he is there," says Rebwar Ramazan Abdullah, motioning to the rows of coffins, unmarked except for the Kurdish flag. Mr. Abdullah was a toddler when Iraqi troops sealed off his village and burst in the house. His father, a medical student, only had time to put on one sock before he was taken away - along with every male of the Barzani clan older than 10.

He says his mother still wears black. "We eat grief instead of bread," says Abdullah.

Hussein's trial is a "good thing" that "should be a lesson to all dictators," he says, but Kurds "feel shock when we see him not convicted of our cases. It is unfair."

Investigators have found evidence of 270 mass graves across Iraq, which are suspected to hold the remains of tens of the thousands of people, including Kurds, Shiites, and other political opponents of the Hussein regime.


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