Uncovering Iraq | By Alessio Mamo
Doctor Zaid and Mister Dhia together with their teams had travelled all over Iraq in the past ten years, from Basra in the South to Sinjar in the North, passing through Tikrit and the river Tigris. But their journeys were the most painful and challenging missions ever: guiding their team in excavating mass graves and exhumation of dead bodies.
Yazidi women of different ages cry during the celebration of the opening of the mass graves in Kojo, Sinjar. They are mothers, sisters, wives of the hundreds of men killed by ISIS in 2014 in what is believed to have been a genocide.
Two of the forensic anthropologists of the Iraqi team of Legal Medicine Directorate and Mass Grave Department at work in Badush mass grave near Mosul.
A man accused of being an ISIS member in front of the judge at the trial at the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad. He doesn’t have a lawyer and declares himself to be an innocent. Some of the accused declare also to have confessed to be ISIS member during the investigative hearing under torture.
Basem, one of the few survivors from Speicher massacre in June 2014, one of the biggest ISIS’s massacres, in the cemetery of Wadi al-Salam, Najaf. This section of the cemetery is dedicated to the victims of the massacre.
Abu Emad, media communication responsible for the Organization of Speicher massacre victims, but his son’s body has never been found in mass graves or elsewhere. Here at the office fo the organization in Baghdad, Tahrir Square.
Najim Al-Juburi, governor of the Nineveh plain, during the press conference at the Badush mass grave where many local press journalists documented the excavations.
From former Saddam Hussein’s regime until recent ISIS’s massacres, in the past 40 years the earth of Iraq has covered the lives of hundreds of thousands of people: missed from Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), Saddam Hussein’s era, post-2003 conflicts, 2006-2008 civil war’s sectarian violence, 2014-2017 ISIS’s occupation in the country and counter-ISIS operations. Estimates run from a 250.000 to one million people missing from decades of conflicts and human rights abuses. It might be the world’s largest number of missing persons in a single country- the Iraqi desaparecidos.
Al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul was blown-up by ISIS last June 2017 during the final phase of the battle in Mosul. In this Mosque in June 2014 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a self-styled Caliphate, the Islamic State or ISIS.
The tireless Iraqi teams of Legal Medicine Directorate and Mass Graves Department reunite all the forensic anthropologists, doctors and experts who are uncovering mysteries and crimes against humanity, identifying the bodies to return to the families of the victims. Starting from 2019, they are accompanied by an international investigative team of the United Nations, which will help in collecting evidences to prosecute the criminals of ISIS’s violence, with their experience all over the world, from Rwanda to Bosnia, from Argentina to Cambodia’s massacres. Only ISIS’s mass graves are 202, while the number of former regime’s ones is unknown. The team’s passionate, humble and huge effort is making the history of Iraq, they will have to work still for so many years, but their hope is only one: that the next mass grave will be the last one.
Three Yazidi women burn incense during the celebration for the opening of the first mass grave in Kojo, Sinjar, on the 15th March 2019. The Iraqi team of Legal Medicine and Mass Graves Department together with the UN investigative team started to work on Yazidi mass graves on the same day: Yezidi survivors and families of victims gathered there to assist at the moment.
In the mortuary of the Medical Legal Directorate in Iraq’s Ministry of Health, Baghdad. Forensic anthropologists analize the skeletons of mass graves’ victims in Iraq committed by ISIS or the ones from Iraq-Iran War or the first Gulf War. They manage to work on 3 to 6 skeletons par day. Baghdad, 19th November 2018.
Ahmad Muhammad Abdallah, storage keeper at the Medical Legal Directorate in Baghdad, in the last four years has been working on mass graves cases and identification of victims. In this boxes there are remains and clothes of people of the 1st Gulf War in 1991.
Excavations at the Badush mass grave near Mosul. The so called Badush prison massacre happened in mid June 2014 where around six hundred Shia prisoners where murdered in cold blood and thrown into mass graves in a desert area near the prison.
The mother of one of the Shia’s prisoners in Badoush prison who were killed in June 2014 by ISIS. She’s giving the requested information about her son to the Medical Legal Team to leave them her DNA through a blood sample in Babel. The team regularly reunites the families of disappeared people for the DNA campaigns all over Iraq.
Alessio Mamo is a Sicilian photographer based in Catania, Italy and a regular contributor for The Guardian and L’Espresso. After completing a degree in chemistry, Mamo then graduated in photography from the European Institute of Design in Rome, Italy in 2007. In 2008, he began his career in photojournalism, focusing on contemporary social, political and economic issues. Mamo covers issues related to refugee displacement and migration starting in Sicily, and then extending to countries in the Middle East. His pictures have been published in major international magazines such as TIME, The Guardian, Newsweek, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Stern, National Geographic, Geo, Polka, AlJazeera, The New Yorker, Internazionale and L’Espresso. He is also a contributing photographer with Médecins Sans Frontières and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Selection by Managing Editor Alejandra Martinez Moreno