Newspaper article International New York Times

Iraq Empties Mass Graves in Search for ISIS Victims ; Bodies Are Thought to Be Some of Nearly 1,700 Slain Air Force Cadets

Newspaper article International New York Times

Iraq Empties Mass Graves in Search for ISIS Victims ; Bodies Are Thought to Be Some of Nearly 1,700 Slain Air Force Cadets

Article excerpt

In Tikrit, officials began exhuming bodies that are thought to be some of the nearly 1,700 air force cadets massacred by the Islamic State.

Iraqi officials have begun exhuming bodies from a series of mass graves containing some of the nearly 1,700 Iraqi Air Force cadets massacred by the Islamic State in June.

"We're still digging but we don't know how many graves there are yet," Kamil Amin, the spokesman for the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry, said on Tuesday. "We're expecting big numbers."

He said that officials had found 11 mass graves up to this point, each containing dozens of bodies and all within the sprawling complex of palaces in Tikrit, along the Tigris River, north of Baghdad.

So far, 57 bodies have been identified, Mr. Amin said, adding that officials were still in the process of matching remains against a DNA database of the 1,686 cadets who were registered as missing from Camp Speicher, a former American air base outside Tikrit that is now used as an Iraqi base.

When extremists of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, overran Tikrit in June, officials at the air force academy at Camp Speicher ordered 1,700 cadets to return to their homes. They left, unarmed, and fell into the hands of Islamic State fighters. Camp Speicher itself never actually fell to the extremists.

The Islamic State posted videos showing groups of hundreds of the cadets being executed, and boasted of having killed 1,700 in all.

Mr. Amin said that officials were still searching for other mass graves in the area because the 11 identified so far were unlikely to account for all of those missing.

Many of the victims were simply thrown into the Tigris River, where 35 bodies of cadets washed up at the nearest dam downstream, in Samarra.

"We expect the river itself to be the biggest mass grave," Mr. Amin said. "And we expect that in every city of our area that is liberated we will find a mass grave full of those who opposed ISIS. …

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