Last week, London was the location of a three-day conference about Iraq, entitled “Looking Toward International Recognition of the Dictatorial Former Regime’s Crime and Violations”. The conference was intended to draw attention to the crimes committed by Saddam’s regime during its long reign, atrocities that caused several hundred-thousand deaths, and whose consequences are still significant in today’s Iraqi struggles. With the participation of the Iraqi Minister of Human Rights, the Minister of Martyrs and Anfals’ Affairs and Iraq’s Ambassador in the UK, the principal aim of the conference was to “internationalize” these crimes by getting international support both by states and organizations in recognizing the nature and the size of what happened. Still today, numbers are disputed, with 1 to 3 million people killed. Almost every ethnical and religious minority and opposition group was oppressed: Kurdish minority was particularly targeted, with the Anfal campaign conducted between 1986 and 1989, and its peak in the Halabja massacre in March 1988. International recognition of Saddam’s crimes would help in reviewing Iraqi past, according to the current Iraq’s government, shedding light on what happened. The goal is not only to compensate the victims, but also to clarify responsibilities and to prosecute the authors of the crimes.
The conference was also the opportunity to illustrate the results of mass graves protection programmes in Iraq, a work started in 2005 with specific laws approved to exhume the hundreds of sites supposed to contain the rests of Saddam’s victims. Also with mass graves, numbers are still uncompleted: at the moment, excavations have started in more the 70 sites, but more than 160 cases are presumed all over the country. Besides identifying and giving a decent burial to the victims, the campaign is aimed to prove the reality of former regime’s actions, against any attempt to reduce the dimensions or even the existence of what happened. Despite many technical difficulties – lack of proper DNA laboratories for the identifications, sites still contaminated by chemical products, presence of mines in the graves – and the vast amount of money required to complete this programme, mass graves recognition is considered a national aim by the current Iraqi authorities, and operations are running fast.
Speaking at the audience, Iraqi Minister of Human Rights stressed the importance of human rights in politics, and the role Iraq is playing as a “pilot country” in the region by adopting democratic standards; but this was the only reference during the conference to the current troubling situation of the Gulf country. Quiet interesting, the mass graves programmes will investigate only the former regime responsibility, ignoring crimes committed after 2003, atrocities that took place under the US occupation and the new Baghdad government. This choice, to mark a clear line between the past and the present conditions and responsibilities, is a great concern for the current Iraqi parties in power, but can lead the programme to be accused of biased political purposes, rather than cultivating Iraqi national interests. For instance, Kurd minorities complain that the programme is neglecting their claims about supposed more mass grave sites, concentrating on other parts of Iraq. In this sense, the legitimate operation of historical clarification and justice has not to be mixed with today’s political reasons, useful to the current Iraqi political elites but really dangerous to the security and stability of an already confused and troublesome domestic situation.