Even as the newly-liberated city of Hawija struggles to rebuild and facilitate the return of much-needed municipal services, another struggle is underway to locate and identify the victims of the group’s three-year-long tyranny. During its reign over northern and western Iraq, the group executed anyone that opposed its governance or tried to flee its territories, dumping their bodies into mass graves. Mass graves containing the group’s victims were already found in many parts of Anbar and Nineveh controlled by the group and now a similar search is underway in Hawija.
The search here is particularly poignant for members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) because Hawija was also home to a training base for the Iraqi Army. When ISIS captured Hawija, it captured and executed many of the cadets, alongside the members of the Iraqi Army and the Sons of Iraq, a Sunni militia that was instrumental in defeating ISIS’ predecessor, “al-Qaeda in Iraq”. Although nowhere on the scale of the infamous Speicher Massacre, the massacres here nevertheless were a match in brutality.
Furthermore, ISIS often brought captured Iraqi soldiers to Hawija, executing them on the city’s main square, atop what has come to be known as the “platform of death” before burying them in mass graves. Many of the ISF personnel here aren’t just searching for their fellow Iraqis, they are searching for their friends.
The administration of Kirkuk Province told reporters that they believe there are many more mass graves containing victims of ISIS massacres. The provincial administration is already working with the locals to help locate the graves as well as any eyewitnesses that can shed light on the identity of the victims. The local officials here have also called for any available forensic expert to lend their support, likely knowing that ad-hoc exhumations by untrained staff can cause evidence to be lost.