Remains of 164 Iraqis massacred by Islamic State jihadists exhumed at Saddam Hussein’s palace compound
IRAQ has exhumed the remains of 164 people believed to have been massacred by Islamic State jihadists from mass graves in Tikrit, the human rights ministry has said.
“Search teams have discovered the remains of 164 (victims) so far in four mass graves during work over the past week,” ministry spokesman Kamel Amin told AFP.
He said documents and mobile phones that have been found indicate the dead are victims of the infamous Speicher massacre, named for the military base near which up to 1,700 mostly Shiite recruits were abducted by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group last year.
But DNA testing is required to confirm their identities, Amin said.
The remains were discovered inside former president Saddam Hussein’s palace compound in Tikrit, which officials say holds 10 mass graves, while three more are located outside it.
The killing of the recruits — which IS documented in photos and videos posted online — stoked widespread anger and helped rally support for the battle against the jihadist group.
The mass grave sites were discovered after Iraqi forces retook the northern city of Tikrit earlier this month in their biggest victory so far against IS.
Buoyed by the success in Tikrit, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Monday he will use a visit to US President Barack Obama to seek increased air support and arms deliveries to aid Baghdad’s battle against jihadists.
“Number one is a marked increase in the air campaign and the delivery of arms,” Abadi told journalists when asked what he wants during a visit to Washington, where he is to meet President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
There has already been an increase, “but we want to see more”, he said before boarding his plane.
“We have an interest in Iraq having good relations with the United States, a solid relationship based on the respect of Iraqi sovereignty and mutual respect,” Abadi said at Baghdad airport.
It was initially thought that Iraqi security forces would continue to thrust north towards Mosul after retaking Tikrit, but Abadi last week announced that Anbar was next.
The vast western province is largely under IS control, and a large operation there would be yet another new challenge for Iraq’s restructuring security forces.
“We need more support, especially because we have two main battles to kick Daesh out of Iraq,” Abadi said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
“They are the battles of Anbar and Nineveh,” he said, referring to the northern province, of which Mosul is the capital.
IS led an offensive last June that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad, but Iraqi security forces and allied paramilitaries have succeeded in regaining significant ground.
The Pentagon said on Monday that Islamic State militants have lost control of up to 16,800 sq kilometres in Iraq but have gained ground in Syria since last August.
Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the front lines of the territory held by the Islamic State group have been pushed farther south and west in Iraq. But the militants still control a wide swath of land stretching from west and south of Sinjar down through Mosul and across Bayji, including the oil refinery there, which is still contested.
A new map released by the Pentagon shows that US and coalition forces regained key territory near Tikrit, Sinjar Mountain and Mosul Dam.
US administration officials have said that coalition air strikes and the ground campaign being waged by Iraqi forces have led to the gains, particularly lately around Tikrit. But Warren said it is too early to say whether the tide of battle has turned.
The air strikes have not had the same success in Syria, where the Islamic State militants have largely held onto a broad area across the north and east. Warren said that although Islamic State militants were driven out of Kobani, in northern Syria, they have maintained their influence across the country and gained some ground around Homs and Damascus.