Iraq, U.S. Excavating Iraq's Mass Graves,
USAID's Natsios Says
Iraqi and U.S. officials have prepared a long-range plan to
excavate mass graves in Iraq and prepare forensic evidence of crimes against
humanity, according to Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID).
Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in May 2003, more than 270 mass graves in
Iraq have been reported, Natsios told reporters March 17 at the State
Department's Foreign Press Center in Washington.
Some of the graves are relatively small, containing a few dozen remains, while
other graves are hundreds of meters long, according to a report distributed at
There are 300,000-400,000 bodies reported to lie in mass graves in Iraq. "The
bones tell a story of horror and shame. Arms bound together. Skulls pierced from
behind. Hundreds in one long trench," Natsios said.
Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis all were killed, along with people from Kuwait, Egypt,
Saudi Arabia and Iran living in Iraq, Natsios said. The killings during the
Saddam Hussein regime are surpassed only by the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Pol
Pot's Cambodian "killing fields" in the 1970s, and the Nazi Holocaust during
World War II, the report said.
USAID is now helping Iraqis "begin the terrible task of counting," he said. The
excavations will meet "humanitarian, emotional and judicial resolution" needs,
according to the report. U.S. forensic and criminal investigation teams are
being assisted by representatives from Britain, Denmark, Finland, Sweden,
Germany and Italy, it added.
USAID and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) are training Iraqis to
assist communities emotionally, collect information about possible victims and
properly identify remains, the report said.
Additionally, a national media campaign has begun to explain to Iraqis -- some
of whom have dug into grave sites seeking the remains of their relatives and
friends -- about the importance of preserving the sites for scientific
investigation and having patience with the investigation process, the report
"Getting the word out on a national level will facilitate identification of the
missing and encourage citizens to come forward with evidence of atrocities," it
"In an effort for all Iraqis to move to a new democratic future, there must be
an accurate accounting of these past atrocities," said Natsios. "Above all,
people in Iraq and around the world hope to learn from the crimes of the past,
so they will not be allowed to occur again. That's why the mass graves in Iraq
must be documented, reported and never forgotten."
Natsios' call for documentation contrasted sharply with efforts cited in the
report by supporters of Saddam Hussein's regime to undermine the forensic effort
by threatening local human rights workers collecting evidence of people exhumed.
The Iraqi Governing Council has announced it will form a national tribunal to
try individuals charged with mass killings of people in Iraq.
Addressing the situation in Iraq generally, Natsios said a poll released March
16 indicated that 71 percent of Iraqis believe their lives will improve over the
This "vote of confidence" is due in part by the "massive foreign assistance
program" carried out by USAID and the CPA over the past year, the administrator
said. USAID plans to continue its operations in Iraq after the transfer of power
to Iraqis this summer, he added.
Natsios said efforts to help establish "normalcy" in Iraq have included
establishing the foundation for democratic governance, reconstructing schools
and providing learning tools, re-establishing the country's ministries,
maintaining food security, restoring electricity and other components of the
country's infrastructure, stabilizing the provision of health care, and opening
women's training and support centers.
Of USAID's accomplishments in Iraq since March 2003, Natsios said, "Our efforts
will help Iraqis to take charge of their country, establish a stable, lasting
democracy based on individual rights and respect for the human rights of all
The report on Iraq's mass graves is available online at:
Following is a transcript of Natsios' prepared remarks to reporters:
Foreign Press Center Remarks by Administrator Natsios
Today I want to talk about the horrors of the mass graves that the Iraqis
found in their country after the end of Saddam Hussein's murderous tyranny.
Afterwards, I will discuss some of the enormous progress Iraqis are making -- on
their own and with U.S. assistance -- towards their new freedom. Across Iraq,
more than 270 mass graves have been reported and about 50 of them have been
confirmed as they begin to yield their tragic secrets. The bones tell a story of
horror and shame. Arms bound together. Skulls pierced from behind. Hundreds in
one long trench.
Those who survived inside Iraq and those of us who watched helplessly from
outside have now joined together to begin the long and painful process of
accounting for the dead. In order for all Iraqis to move into their new
democratic future, there must be an accurate accounting of these past
atrocities. How many died in these mass murders? Some say 300,000. Some say
400,000. We are helping the Iraqis as they begin the terrible task of counting.
The killings of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis -- and the killings of foreigners from
Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran -- took place in waves. Methodically,
Saddam's forces destroyed villages, transferred women and children to detention
camps and took away the men in trucks -- some of them barefoot and naked --
never to be seen again. Tens of thousands of people were taken far from their
homes to distant camps in the desert where they were killed, buried by
bulldozers under tons of sand. This was not some random violence by
out-of-control troops. This was systematic mass murder. It is a death toll that
rivals only the Rwanda genocide of 1994, the killing fields of Pol Pot in the
1970s, Stalin's great terror and the mass murder of World War II.
The new Iraqi leaders in Al Hillah, Karbala, Najaf and other Iraqi cities are
working with USAID, British, Polish, Italian and other coalition military forces
to try and protect and forensically analyze some of the mass graves. These
crimes against humanity must not be forgotten.
USAID is funding many Iraqi human rights groups that have formed and are urging
people to record the names of those being exhumed and describe the circumstances
in which they were seized and slain. USAID provided the Free Prisoners
Association, the Lawyers Association and other groups around Iraq with
computers, tools, office space and experts to help protect the mass graves and
begin to exhume them in a scientific, forensically safe way. An international
effort has begun to help Iraqis prepare forensic evidence of crimes against
humanity in a court of law such as the Iraq Tribunal. For example, Finland has
just sent a team of forensic experts to help train the Iraqis in this new
science -- part anthropology, part criminology.
As Iraqi women and children, husbands and brothers, streamed into the
once-forbidden military bases where the worst mass killings and burials took
place, a handful of survivors came forward to tell their stories.
Three of these first person accounts are included in our new Mass Graves booklet
that USAID has just published. The brochure is available in English and Arabic
and is being distributed throughout Iraq, the Middle East and Europe. You can
also see the booklet and download it at our website, usaid.gov.
One of the survivors is a 36-year-old aircraft mechanic, who asked that his real
name not be disclosed. He was driving with his family near the south central
Shiite city of Al Hillah March 6, 1991, during the Shiite uprising after the end
of the Gulf War. He was arrested at a military checkpoint and taken to Mahaweel,
the country's largest military base.
He tells what he saw as he waited all day with hundreds of other prisoners
-- men, women, children, the old, the blind -- all of them Shiites. Saddam
military men built a large ring of tires about 20 feet wide and set it on fire
and began throwing people into it. Other prisoners were taken away by bus to a
muddy swamp behind a brick factory where he began to hear gun shots. Everyone in
the bus was blindfolded.
Then they pulled about seven to ten people off the bus. He heard shots ring out.
His group was next. They were led to the front of the bus where the headlights
were directly on them. They were pushed to the ground and then were pulled up
one at a time to be executed. They were pushed a couple of feet to the edge of
the swamp and shot. Most would fall before being shot because they were overcome
There were three executioners. They took turns shooting and reloading so the man
turned to the swamp, jumped over bodies and ran through the water. He was shot
in the left hand and foot and fell breaking his nose. He continued on and made
it to the other side of the swamp. After hiding for a month and recovering, he
returned home to discover his two brothers had been executed in similar
Because of the secrecy Saddam imposed, and the fear and shame felt by the
millions he terrorized, the world knows little about what happened inside his
tyrannical regime. But those stepping forward today have decided that they must
tell the stories, no matter how much pain it causes.
Above all, people in Iraq and around the world hope to learn from the crimes of
the past, so they will not be allowed to occur again. That's why the mass graves
of Iraq must be documented, reported and never forgotten. The USAID booklet is a
small, early marker on that path.
Another step is the film "Saddam's Mass Graves" produced by independent Iraqi
filmmaker Jano Rosebiani, with a small grant from USAID. We will now show you a
short excerpt from the 58-minute film, which includes interviews with many who
survived the mass killings but whose husbands, brothers and children ended up in
the Mass Graves. Copies of the movie will be available following today's press
There is little that anyone can say after seeing these people tell of their
suffering. But their pain is giving way to a new era. Are there still problems?
Yes. But do you think many Iraqis want to turn the clock back and allow Saddam
and his murderous tyranny restored to power?
A new poll released yesterday March 16 by ABC News shows that most Iraqis say
their lives are better now than before the war. Some 56 percent said life was
better now and 23 percent said it was the same. Only 19 percent said things were
Significantly, 71 percent said they expect their lives to get better over the
next year -- a huge vote of confidence in the future. In part, this confidence
has been produced by the elimination of Saddam's terror. But also in part by the
massive U.S. foreign assistance program carried out by USAID and the Coalition
Provisional Authority over the past year.
In the year since USAID 's Iraq aid teams mobilized on March 16, 2003 to head
into Iraq, they have carried out the Agency's largest reconstruction task in its
history. USAID put $2 billion of assistance into Iraq in six months -- it's only
rival in size is the Marshall Plan completed following World War Two to help
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment in the first year is that our troops and our
foreign assistance have brought some normalcy and sense of hope to the vast
majority of Iraqis. Normalcy was established because CPA and USAID immediately
started work on schools, water, electricity, financial stability and local
By repairing and re-opening hundreds of schools, by getting teachers paid and
students back in school within six weeks, by holding matriculation exams and by
printing 8.7 million new math and science textbooks, Iraqi kids did not suffer
disruption to their education. When children and parents are able to maintain
the normal routines of life, it gives a sense of hope. This sense of hope is now
driving the larger political tasks facing the Iraqi Governing Council as it
creates a democratic government on the ashes of 30 years of Saddam Hussein's
murderous tyranny. The recent signing of the Transitional Administrative Law, or
TAL, is living evidence of this sense of hope transformed into action.
Let's briefly review the top achievements of USAID working with CPA over the
past year in Iraq:
1. ESTABLISHED THE FOUNDATION FOR DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE: We quickly set up
USAID's "Local Governance Program" in Iraq's major cities and 18 governorates in
cooperation with our U.S. civil affairs teams. Men and women, clerics and
secularists, businessmen and workers all learned to work together, to compromise
and to cope with the basic issues of local
government: reconstruction of roads and sewers, cleaning streets, traffic
management, maintaining health clinics and schools, police training and other
2. RECONSTRUCTED SCHOOLS AND PROVIDED THE KEY TOOLS FOR LEARNING WITHOUT THE
EVIL OF THE PREVIOUS REGIME IMBUED INTO THEIR TEXTS: For example, quick grants
to UNESCO helped print 8.7 million textbooks in Arabic and Kurdish and we have
rehabilitated over 2,000 schools. We distributed 1.5 million secondary school
bags with educational supplies and trained over 32,000 teachers.
3. HELPED RE-ESTABLISH IRAQI MINISTRIES: National Government Ministries were
quickly up and running despite post-war looting. USAID provided "Ministries in a
Box" and set up 100 officials in each ministry with desks, chairs, phones,
computers and basic materials.
4. MAINTAINED FOOD SECURITY FOR ALL IRAQIS: The public food distribution system
was kept operating so there was no hunger. The Agency's Food for Peace office
sent about 10 big shiploads totaling 500,000 tons of grain. To date more than
$104 million in humanitarian assistance was provided for nutrition, health,
5. RESTORED ELECTRICITY TO PRE-CONFLICT LEVELS: Electricity was restored in six
months by USAID's main contractor, Bechtel. Basra now has 23 hours of power per
day compared with two hours under Saddam. The improved power, combined with
massive repairs to water and sewerage systems, is improving the health and
environment quality of 15 million Iraqis.
6. STABILIZED THE PROVISION OF HEALTH SERVICES THROUGH TRAINING, IMMUNIZATIONS
AND TREATMENT: USAID has vaccinated over 3 million Iraqi children under the age
of five. We've equipped over 600 primary care facilities and rehabilitated over
60 primary healthcare clinics. We have trained more than 2,000 healthcare
7. OPENED 17 WOMEN'S CENTERS TO PROVIDE JOB TRAINING AND RESOURCES FOR
COMBATTING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Women's rights have been dramatically
improved and the TAL is proof of this improvement. Women voters and women
candidates were escorted to local council elections. War widows and women's
unemployment are being addressed at the grassroots level.
8. FINANCIAL STABILIZATION HAS SET THE FOUNDATION FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH: Financial
stability was created through a substantial currency exchange program and
technical assistance provided by the USG and contract partners like Bearing
Point. The Iraqi dinar with Saddam's portrait was collected and destroyed while
new replacement dinars were printed and distributed. Their value has increased.
The central bank was put back on its feet USAID set up a financial information
system and a government accounting system.
9. TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE HAS BEEN RESTORED: Three major bridges linking
the country's highways were repaired by Bechtel. Gasoline was produced by
providing electricity and security to the refinery and to gas pipelines.
10. TELECOMMUNICATIONS WAS RE-ESTABLISHED: Local phone service was restored and
international call service was re-opened for the first time since the conflict.
13 telecommunications switches were installed, fiber optic cable was repaired,
and 20 Iraqi cities were reconnected to Baghdad.
11. PORT AND SHIPPING INFRASTRUCTURE REOPENED. The country's deep-water port at
Umm Qasr now has 50 ocean-going ships a month docking with grain and other goods
after USAID had the port dredged and removed shipwrecks and unexploded bombs lei
since the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.
After looking back over the tragedies of Iraq's recent past and the achievements
of the last year, I am more convinced than ever that our efforts will help
Iraqis to take charge of their country establish a stable, lasting democracy
based on individual rights and respect for the human rig of all Iraqis.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: