More than 1,000 bodies have been buried in a mass grave in a desert valley outside Mosul, most of them believed to be Islamic State group militants, according to a provincial official. More remains are being dug out of the rubble of the district where the fighters made their final stand last year.
Hundreds more bodies are still strewn across or buried in the Maydan district nine months after it was flattened in the final battles to retake Mosul, creating one of the grimmest scenes from a brutal war that was compared to the worst urban combat of World War II.
During a recent visit by the Associated Press, pieces of desiccated bodies, often in shreds of fighters’ uniforms, were visible scattered in the ruins, which are also laced with unexploded bombs and unused suicide belts. One man lay crushed under the wreck of a car, his legs sticking up in the air.
Most of the bodies appeared to belong to Islamic State fighters killed by air strikes or shelling, their remains half-buried. But there were also women and small children. The body of baby girl lay on the balcony of a half-collapsed building, covered by bits of rubble.
The scene is testimony to Iraqi authorities’ lack of resources and the overwhelming task they face in just digging out from the destruction wreaked across Mosul in the 9-month offensive by Iraqi forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition that finally defeated the militants. Multiple neighborhoods suffered heavy damage. Clearing rubble is largely financed by the United Nations’ development agency, and repairs are proceeding slowly. In some areas, streets have been cleared but many buildings remain shattered.
Maydan is at a further disadvantage because Iraqi officials don’t appear to see removing bodies as a high priority. The provincial council’s office said clearing the area was the job of the civil defense; the civil defense said it was the job of the morgue; the head of the morgue declined to comment.
Faris Abdulrazzaq, mayor of Maydan, said the failure to clear the area — not just the bodies, but also the huge amount of unexploded ordnance — was preventing residents from returning to rebuild what they can, as others have in other districts.
“I wonder why all these government officials are leaving this problem to fester all this time,” he said. “This is the first thing they should take care of.”
Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces dropped vast amounts of explosives to break Islamic State fighters’ resistance last July in the last weeks of the assault that freed Mosul from the militant group’s rule. The fighters held out the longest in Maydan, a neighborhood of tiny, winding alleyways and closely built homes.
Bashar al-Kiki, the head of the provincial council for Nineveh governorate, said the municipal government had no resources to clean up the site. The bodies are collected by civilian volunteers, then taken to a mass burial site near Sahaji, a town west of Mosul, he said. He estimated that 1,000 bodies had been buried.