A mass grave was found on Monday in recently recaptured Tikrit, Iraq, which may contain up to 1,700 Iraqi soldiers killed by the Islamic State (IS).
Tikrit had been seized by IS in June of 2014, and despite heavy fighting, the Iraqi government could not retake the city until about a week ago, with the help of Shiite militias. During Tikrit’s occupation, IS was reported to have murdered over 1,500 Iraqi Air Force personnel from Camp Speicher, located in the city. Iraq’s human rights ministry put forward an official number of 1678 military personnel missing since IS captured the city, presumed dead, with the Islamic State claiming to have killed 1,700.
On Monday a mass grave was found with bodies close to that number. A former IS prisoner who was forced to contribute to digging the mass grave identified its location, with various items from the dead men strewn about: ID cards, wallets, and shirts among them.
Morgue director Ali Tahir, who is overseeing the extraction of the bodies, said that DNA samples will be sent to Baghdad to confirm who is in the mass grave. According to Human Rights Watch, satellite images and witness testimony suggested that more graves may be found in Saddam Hussein’s former presidential palace, which is located in Tikrit and was used by IS during the occupation.
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi said on Monday in response to grieving families that seeking revenge is not the best response to discovering the mass grave. The families were asked to provide DNA samples from themselves to match against the DNA samples being retrieved from the mass grave in the hope of providing some closure.
The Speicher Massacre in Tikrit has been called by Human Rights Watch one of the largest mass murders in recent history. Once Camp Speicher was captured, IS released media of Iraqi Air Force personnel marching at gunpoint to their deaths in mass killings. The Iraqi government used the aid of Shiite militias and Iranian military leaders to take bake Tikrit. The Iraqi government has ordered Tikrit to be cleared of all possible landmines, IEDs, and boobytraps.