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[casi-analysis] Prime Minister and mass graves revisited

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Dear all

Some time ago (December 18, 2003 ) I posted a mailing which drew attention
to the Prime Minister's claim - posted on his website
( under the heading 'PM: Shadow of Saddam lifted
of Iraq' - that  the remains of 400,000 bodeis have already been uncovered
in mass graves in Iraq.

This is quoted in a document recently published by USAID (Iraq's Legacy of
Terror - Mass Graves) and posted on the CPA website (what this has to do
with USAID is also a bit of a mystery). There we read that '"We've already
discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves," said
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on November 20 in London.

In his recent speech the Prime Minister informed us that the remains of
300,000 bodies have already been found in mass graves in Iraq. Something
seems in the interim to have happened to the remains of 100,000 people.

Radio Free Europe, which I follow for my sins, reported the publication of
the USAID document as follows:

'The press release states that some 270 mass graves have been
uncovered in Iraq since the fall of the Hussein regime in May.'

The document itself - which is a very slight affair - says that 'Since the
Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown in May, 270 mass graves have been
reported'. Not 'uncovered'. I don't know if RFE account of the contents of
the press statement is accurate. This figure has been around for quite a
while. In my December mailing I give it as the 'usual' figure, so it seems
none have been reported since. That mailing went on to quote an article, not
at all unfavourable to the CPA, which said ''After seven months of work, the
(CPA) team has confirmed 41 mass graves across the length and breadth of
Iraq.' So there we had 270 reported, 41 confirmed (the USAID document opens
with a map of 'Locations of first mass grave discovered in Iraq. It shows
eight, of which five are 'suspected' mass graves).

If you get all the way to page 4 of USAID's slim volume, however, you read
'so far, 270 suspected mass grave sites have been found (note this - PB) by
Iraqis, the CPA, and the US Army's criminal Investigative Division. However,
in some cases, mass grave reports have turned out to be either simply old
cemetries, or falsely reported to attract attention or to obtain funds.'
Leaving us wondering what on earth the compilers think the 270 figure is
referring to. Perhaps 270 sites that have been reported and investigated
('found') with many of them turning out to be old cemeteries etc but still
included in the 270 to make it look good.

What is amazing is that this should be so tacky, given the appalling
importance of the question. And that so little should be being done to get
at the truth. As I pointed out in December, when the Iraq Survey Group was
announced, uncovering evidence of Saddam's crimes was supposed to be its
main role. I was left with the impression that 1,000 people would be devoted
to uncovering crimes, while 500 would be looking for weapons. In the event
they were all looking for weapons. And now USAID tells us that a team of 40
'international investigators' will be looking at mass graves - this after
telling us how difficult and slow and urgent it is. Difficult, slow, urgent
seems to me to add up to the need for a big team, bigger than 40. But
further down the page (where we are once again informed as if it is new
information that 'The CPA's office of Human Rights and Transitional Justice
has compiled a list of 270 suspected sites across the country') we are told
that 'The team of 20-30 people will need living accomodations for four to
six weeks).'

Are we supposed to think that our Prime Minister and the compilers of this
report are taking this question seriously?


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