Monday, April 26, 2010

Iraqi Kurds lay Saddam's child victims to rest

By Sherko Raouf

CHAMCHAMAL, Iraq (Reuters) - The remains of more than 100 unidentified children who died of hunger and disease during a harsh crackdown on Iraqi Kurds by Saddam Hussein were buried on Tuesday in the Kurdish town of Chamchamal.

The children were detained with their families in 1988 in the town 65 km (40 miles) south of Sulaimaniya, which is 260 km northeast of Baghdad, and from surrounding villages during a wave of arrests made by the former government in April 1988.

In a solemn ceremony on a breezy, overcast day, Kurdish peshmerga fighters in full-dress uniform carried more than 100 small coffins draped in Kurdish flags and laid them in a cemetery created especially for the young victims of oppression. The bodies of two women were also buried.

Around 4,000 people attended and a brass band played solemn music throughout the ceremony.

The arrests were part of the "Anfal" campaign aimed at suppressing the Kurds, whom the regime regarded with suspicion. 

The detainees were sent to prison in Dibis, northeast of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Many of the children died of hunger and disease and were later buried in mass graves. Their bodies were exhumed after Saddam's fall in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Saddam's ouster was followed by a bloody and devastating sectarian war. The country has been comparatively stable over the past year despite continuing bombings but there are concerns protracted coalition talks following inconclusive elections in March could push Iraq back into sectarian conflict.

A spike in violence could delay U.S. plans to end combat operations in August ahead of a pullout by the end of 2011.
The ceremony on Tuesday was attended by Barham Salih, the prime minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government, other leading Kurdish officials, foreign diplomats and thousands of family members of Anfal victims.

Kurdish Health Minister Taher Hawrami told Reuters the regional government lacked the equipment to perform DNA tests on the children to ascertain their identities. None of the children had been identified.

"It is very difficult to identify the victims at the current time," he said. "We will take samples from the bodies and we will make DNA tests" when testing facilities become available.

Zeinat Fatah, 59, said she was held in Dibis with her two sons, who were aged eight and four. Both sons died of starvation in 1988. Her husband was killed during the campaign.

"Who are my sons?" she asked, weeping over the fact that her children's remains had not been identified.

"We were left starving with no food for about 10 days, she said. "Many children died. I am a widow with no sons. I'll cry for them until the end of my life."

(Writing by Waleed Ibrahim; Editing by Nick Carey and Jon Hemming)

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