The remains of 605 people believed to have been killed by ISIL (ISIS) have been exhumed from a mass grave near a prison in northern Iraq over the past two years, a government agency has said.
The group, which took over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014, had taken the inmates from the prison in the northern area of Badush and killed them near a waterway, according to the Mass Graves Department at the government-linked Foundation of Martyrs.
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“The process of opening the graves took more than two years and resulted in the removal of 605 bodies,” department chief Dhiaa Karim told a press conference in Baghdad on Sunday, held in participation with a representative from the state-linked Medical Legal Directorate (MLD), according to Iraq’s state news agency INA.
“The process of opening and excavating graves was carried out with the support of the International Commission on Missing Persons and the international investigation team after the issuance of the decision to open the graves,” he said.
According to Karim, 401 body parts and 204 full bodies were recovered, and were handed over to the MLD for identification as they were exposed to events like floods and changes in the climate.
The state news agency said the bodies of 78 of the victims have been identified so far.
The Iraqi government declared military victory against ISIL in December 2017.
Iraq has since unearthed mass graves of people thought to have been killed by ISIL in several areas of the country.
Other mass graves have also been found over the years, remnants of violence from former authoritarian leader Saddam Hussein’s invasion of neighbouring Iran during the 1980s, the 1991 Gulf War, the 2003 United States-led invasion of Iraq, and years of sectarian bloodletting.
The decades of violence have meant that Iraq now has one of the highest numbers of missing persons in the world, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The United Nations has said over 200 mass graves have been linked to ISIL alone, containing thousands of bodies.
Families of the missing victims of the violence from ISIL and others have spoken out throughout the years, with many expressing frustration as the identification process could take years.
Meanwhile, state bodies like the Foundation of Martyrs have previously complained of financial hurdles and government red tape as some of the reasons behind the lengthy process.