Iraq soldiers wonder what to do with ISIS corpses
Erbil - There is a saying the Kurdish have when all hope has been lost: “Even the devil has left them”. This is how Sayed Hazar, the deputy commander of the military police to the east of Mosul, describes the corpses of the extremists he has been dealing with, since the beginning of the military operation to push the Islamic State (ISIS) out of that city.
Hazar had just removed three corpses out of one of ISIS’s many tunnels in the area. He buried those bodies himself but he says many others were buried in mass graves. The holes were dug, the corpses placed in them then the holes were filled in with bulldozers.
“We have been trying to deal with the bodies of these militants humanely,” Hazar said, “because even the devil has left them.”
Most of the corpses are unidentified. If the bodies have any identification on them, it is usually forged, Hazar said. The only thing that can be done is to remember where the bodies are buried, should anybody come looking for them and want to identify them.
\"The only thing we really know about them is the place of their burial,” Hazar said.
Many of those killed are Iraqis who joined ISIS but there are also foreigners among the dead.
“The Iraqi Kurdish military bury the [ISIS] dead on the spot to avoid any possible problems with diseases,” said Jamal Eminki, chief of staff of the Iraqi-Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga. “There is no way we can transport the bodies anywhere else because of the fighting.”
The Kurdistan Clerics’ Federation said it is sure the corpses are being “treated in a humane manner”. Usually there are no clerics at the burial though, the organisation’s head, Abdullah Mulla Sayed said, due to security conditions.
At one stage, there was a suggestion that all the corpses be taken to one graveyard so as to create a kind of monument to the war. The site could also be used to raise money for the families of the dead.
“The council at the Ministry did not approve this idea,” said Mariwan Naqshbandi, spokesman for Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, who suggested the plan, “because they were concerned that, later on, the dead might be considered by some to be righteous men.”
In January, authorities in the Kirkuk area buried more than 80 corpses in a mass grave in the Banja Ali area. Most of them died when ISIS launched a surprise attack on Kirkuk in October 2016.
The bodies were kept for a certain amount of time in hope that families would claim their relatives, explained Sardar Ali, of the Kirkuk municipal authority. Some of the dead were claimed by relatives but those who were not were simply buried.
“We had to deal with the bodies as unidentified because none carried any ID,” Ali said, “but we also did DNA tests so that we can give these to families of the fighters if they come looking for them.”
The Independent Commission for Human Rights in Iraqi Kurdistan sent letters to various offices requesting that the ISIS corpses be treated humanely and that they should not be used in any humiliating manner. The letter was sent to the local military and to media organisations.
“The [ISIS] corpses should be buried in easily identifiable places and according to international standards,” said Diya Butros, the head of the commission. “The IDs of those buried should be put into glass bottles and then left there, so their families can identify them later. Improper actions taken against the dead are also human rights violations.”
Many of those suggestions, however, are not necessarily being implemented. Butros said this is understandable, adding: “The situation is not stable and we are in a state of war.”
In general, it is clear there is no overarching plan for the corpses of ISIS fighters and they are being buried and identified by several different organisations and authorities during the crisis.
For example, Hazar said he was going up a mountain near Khazar when he was called by someone in Mosul to ask if he knew anything about the fate of his son, who had joined ISIS.
“We have the body of his son but I could not tell him this,” Hazar said. And because the Iraqi Kurdish authorities have not decided what should be done with the enemy corpses, or if they should facilitate the bodies being given back to grieving families, Hazar said he had no choice but to bury the body of that particular man, in the same way he has buried other ISIS corpses.