ISIS left behind 202 mass graves in Iraq, UN says

More than 200 mass graves containing between 6,000 and 12,000 bodies have been found in Iraq from the time of ISIS's three-year reign, UN investigators say.

Scale of violence could amount to genocide, international body says

A member of the Iraqi security forces gestures towards a mass grave in the Iraqi town of Hammam al-Alil after it was seized from ISIS, on Nov. 9, 2016. A UN report says more than 200 mass graves have been identified in the country. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters)

More than 200 mass graves containing between 6,000 and 12,000 bodies have been found in Iraq from the time of ISIS's three-year reign, UN investigators said Tuesday.

The 202 graves verified by investigators dot northern Iraq and are a legacy of ISIS's "terror," the UN mission to Iraq and the UN office for human rights said in the joint report. Findings from the gravesites can be used as evidence of the group's crimes, they said.

The graves date from 2014 to 2017, when the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria ruled some of Iraq's largest cities and towns.

Men excavate remains from a mass grave on the outskirts of Saadia in Diyala province, on Jan. 15, 2015. The mass grave contained the remains of more than 25 men who were killed by Islamic State fighters, a hospital official said. (Reuters)

As the militants swept through Iraq and neighbouring Syria, they killed and captured members of the security forces en masse, expelled or killed minorities, and enslaved women from the Yazidi sect. The UN says the widespread violations could amount to genocide.

Several graves found in Iraq's Salahuddin province contain the remains of victims of the 2014 Camp Speicher massacre, when the militants killed around 1,700 Iraqi security forces and army cadets.

In some cases, the militants dropped their victims or the bodies of their victims in wells or sinkholes instead of digging graves. Investigators said there could be thousands of bodies in the Khasfa sinkhole south of Mosul, the largest city once under ISIS' control.

Iraqi authorities have exhumed the remains of 1,258 people from 28 graves, according to the UN. It urged authorities to identify the remains of all gravesite victims and seek justice for families. It said bodies should be preserved and returned to families.

Iraq's Mass Graves Directorate and Martyrs' Commission could not be reached for immediate comment.

Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December last year, but the militants still control pockets of territory just across the border in Syria, and continue to claim responsibility for abductions and bomb blasts around the country.