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It would be a foolish person indeed that pretended that Saddam Hussein and his regime was not maintained by force and by violent suppression of opponents. It would be an equally foolish person that accepted every atrocity story at face value, especially in a situation where the case of WMDs has so utterly unravelled. Uncritical acceptance of ill researched or undocumented media reports in liew of proper forensic investigation at very least devalues those who did suffer under Saddam Hussein and is an extremely poor basis for building an open Iraq. Muhammad Sakran village represents a palpable case of an utterly unresearched case being given "respectability" by HRW and entering the public domain as "fact". A fairly typical summary in the media as follows "Yesterday, New York-based Human Rights Watch said a secret cemetery containing numbered graves of more than 1,000 prisoners executed by Saddam's government had been located 40 kilometres north of Baghdad, in the village of Muhammad Sakran. " Strangely, HRW saw fit to publish some photos to back up their claim. To my mind these photos represent such an obvious lack of investigation that one is compelled to suspect their motive is deceit. Some photos are obvious misrepresentations, others are possibly are as well and in the circumstances little credence can be offered them. Certainly if such a mass grave site HAD been found I would have expected far more convincing images, although not needing to be explicit. The photo gallery is here http://www.hrw.org/photos/2003/iraq/ I shall discuss the photos, numbering them 1 to 6 In photos 1 and 6 http://www.hrw.org/photos/2003/iraq/pages/1.htm http://www.hrw.org/photos/2003/iraq/pages/6.htm A casual viewer might well be confused into believing that these actually related to the mass grave site and prehaps show lists of victims or concerned relatives. They do not, they are in fact pictures taken in Baghdad of a villa housing the Committee of Free Prisoners and the lists are those culled from documents alledgedly left by Iraq Security Services. Documents now in US custody. Their connection to any mass grave site in Muhamed Sakran village is negligible. In photo 2 http://www.hrw.org/photos/2003/iraq/pages/2.htm A body has been uncovered at the foot of a fairly substantial tombstone, unusual for a secret burial ground. However, in normal circumstances one would accept that as reasonable evidence of the presence of a victim. But not if you consider the other photos. In photo 3 http://www.hrw.org/photos/2003/iraq/pages/3.htm We see a collection of men reading from a piece of paper. But in the background there appears to be a collection of quite substantial and elaborate masuoleums. I would venture to suggest here that what HRW has managed to uncover is not a "secret burial ground" but a fairly standard Iraqi cemetery. In photo 4 http://www.hrw.org/photos/2003/iraq/pages/4.htm We see two rather laid back Iraqis desultorily turning over some soil (it would be something of an exaggeration to call it digging). In the foreground we see a labelled board, perhaps demarcating a grave of a victim. But no other such boards can be seen in the rest of the field, which, with the exception of another substantial monument, seems devoid of anything other than bare undisturbed dirt. Certainly there is absolutly no basis for "numbered graves of more than 1,000 prisoners". In photo 5 http://www.hrw.org/photos/2003/iraq/pages/5.htm Here we see a small buckle and tag placed against another substantial headstone and the reader is invited to believe that this has been dug up in one of the graves. If so, it certainly is not the grave by which it is pictured as the earth is obviously completely undisturbed. Its hardly a image convincing of anything. In summary, of the 6 photos 2 have absolutely no relation to that site. The other 4 MIGHT provide evidence of at least one or more executed prisoners but there is utterly no basis to make a claim of "over 1000 numbered graves". To be perfectly honest it looks like nothing more than a normal graveyard. At best HRW is making inflated claims without waiting or assisting in collecting anything like a proper evidence and investigation. But far more likely it is simply indulging in baseless propaganda. In fairness.. Below is a series of photos from Malawhil which are quite clearly from some kind of mass grave, I would make a few points. 1. The number of victims it contained seems to have been left deliberately obscure. Initial reports stated up to 16 000, sotto voce this seems to have been modified down to 2000-3000. 2. Before the war it had been subject to report by Amnesty International that 150 soldiers from the 1991 uprising had been executed there. Given HRW's record I am not totally convinced that they might be a truer indication of the figure. 3. The person in charge of the operation, the mayor of Hilla, was in fact appointed by the US army and is a returning exile from the Iraqi opposition. This in no way invalidates what is discovered, but the Iraqi opposition's record in over the top propaganda is not a good one. 4. Most of the remains I have seen do appear to have been military with khaki uniforms. Suggesting it is very probable they died in fighting or execution afterwards. 5. A curious little dialogue seems to being played out time and time again. It goes something like this. NGO: The US occupying force must protect and provide forensic support for the investigation of mass grave site X. Army: Sorry, we are just way too busy. NGO: (panics) but local Iraqis are exacavating the graves in desperation to uncover lost loved ones. Army: Gee, I wish we could help but... NGO: Nooooo! the grave has been destroyed, bodies taken off for reburial and vital evidence in war crimes trials lost forever. Now we may never know the full horror. Army: We will just have to rely on your detailed investigation and media reports. Its all a little suspicious, if the scale of mass graves is anything like alledged it would surely be very much in the US domestic and external interests to have comprehensive investigation and documentation. The fact that this isnt happening suggests to me that the reality, however bad it may have been, has not matched the hype. ____________________________________________________________ Enter for a chance to win one year's supply of allergy relief! http://ad.doubleclick.net/clk;6413623;3807821;f?http://mocda3.com/1/c/563632/125699/307982/307982 This offer applies to U.S. Residents Only _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk