MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Authorities in Mosul
have buried more than 1,000 bodies in a mass
grave in a desert valley outside the city,
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 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
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. In one place, the crown of a skull
stuck out of the dirt, brilliant white with
a fringe of leathery scalp and hair. 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
IS fighters killed by airstrikes or
shelling, their remains half-buried. But
there were also women and small children.
The body of baby girl, turned ghoulish
brown, lay on the balcony of a
half-collapsed building, covered by bits of
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 IS here. Multiple
neighborhoods suffered heavy damage.
Clearing of 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 of IS fighters as a high
priority. The provincial council’s office
told the AP that 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.
“Even when you pass by a dead cat, you
feel the smell and you try to get rid of it.
How do you think hundreds of dead bodies
smell?” he said. “I wonder why all these
government officials are leaving this
problem to fester all this time. This is the
first thing they should take care of.”
He expressed fears over the health impact
of the bodies. The World Health Organization
has often noted that even large numbers of
bodies left after a disaster do not pose a
major health risk, since the victims die of
trauma not epidemic and bacteria involved in
decomposition are not dangerous.
But the stench of decay rising from the
ruins is oppressive, and temperatures are
only now starting to rise into the upper 20s
Celsius (80s Fahrenheit).
Even by the awful standards of Mosul, the
devastation is shocking in this part of the
Old City stretching roughly a kilometer
(half mile) along the Tigris River. The
piles of dirt, rubble, smashed concrete,
metal and vehicle skeletons are so high it
is barely possible in many places to tell
where the street ended and the buildings
Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces
dropped vast amounts of explosives on this
small area to break IS fighters’ resistance
last July in the last weeks of the
9-month-long assault that free Mosul from
the militant group’s rule. The fighters held
out the longest in Maydan, a neighborhood of
tiny, winding alleyways and closely built
Bashar al-Kiki, the head of the
provincial council for Nineveh governorate,
told the AP on Thursday that the municipal
government had no resources to clean up the
site. The bodies are collected by civilian
volunteers, then taken by the municipality
to the city morgue and finally to a mass
burial site in a desert valley near Sahaji,
a town west of Mosul, he said.
He estimated that 1,000 bodies had been
buried at the site.
Al-Kiki said the morgue makes an effort
to identify the bodies or at least to tell
if they belonged to fighters or civilians,
but lack of resources prevents them from
carrying out a proper identification
This week, a band of young volunteers
wearing plastic gloves worked amid the
rubble, pulling corpses cut in half out from
under piles of bricks and putting them into
white body bags. Some said that occasionally
during their work in the past months they’ve
been harassed by security forces asking why
they are bothering to deal with IS bodies.
The leader of the team, 23-year-old Surur
Abdulkarim, said that in the past six months
they had collected 650 bodies. She said the
aim was to clear out as many as possible
before the heat of summer.
She said their operation was entirely
self-financed except for a one-off donation
of some body bags and protective clothing by
the aid group Medicines Sans Frontieres.
Several times a week they turn up at the
site with a few bags, fill them with
corpses, and then leave them by the roadside
for the municipality to pick up.
Iraqi and U.S. officials have never given
a detailed estimate of how many IS militants
were killed in Mosul, only putting the
figure in the thousands. Thousands more
escaped and continued to fight elsewhere in
Iraq or in Syria.
An AP investigation last year found that
between 9,000 and 11,000 civilians died in
the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic
State group, at least a third of them killed
by Iraqi or coalition bombardment.
The extremists had controlled the city,
Iraq’s second largest, since June 2014, when
they declared their “caliphate” over a third
of Iraq and Syria. Nearly all of that
territory has been wrested back in the
campaign led by U.S.-backed Iraqi and Syrian
forces, except for small pockets held by IS