Exhumation of Iraq's Camp Speicher victim mass graves begins

WEB_IRAQ_MASS_GRAVES_07_04_2015

Remnants of a body belonging to Shi'ite soldiers from Camp Speicher who have been killed by Islamic State militants is seen at a mass grave in the presidential compound of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in Tikrit April 6, 2015.

TIKRIT - Iraqi forensic teams began on Monday 6  April, excavating 12 suspected mass grave sites thought to hold the corpses of as many as 1,700 soldiers massacred last summer by Islamic State militants as they swept across northern Iraq.

The mass killings last June of Shi&39;ite soldiers from Camp Speicher, a former U.S. base outside the Sunni city of Tikrit, has become a symbol of the brutality of Islamic State fighters and their hatred for Iraq&39;s Shi&39;ite majority.

The deaths showed Iraqis that the Islamic State fighters, who have also attacked ethnic and religious minorities as well as fellow Sunni Muslims opposing them, were a threatening new kind of foe.

The images of Shi&39;ite soldiers being machine-gunned in their hundreds, posted online by the jihadists, could rank as the deadliest single act of bloodshed during a decade of periodic sectarian war in Iraq.

The exhumation of burial sites on the late dictator Saddam Hussein&39;s presidential compound came days after Islamic State militants were driven from the city by Iraqi forces and Shi&39;ite paramilitaries.

Ali survived the massacre by feigning death. He came back to the site where he managed to escape despite all the odds.

"They told us they had no problem with us and promised us we would be sent to our families, they brought us cars and even gave us water to make us feel secure. Once they put us in large cars, they managed to control us and brought us here and tied us up, and I still have a mark from my cuffs here"

He said.

"The fourth bullet was meant to kill me, but I was not hit. The fifth bullet was fired, killing the one who was next to me. Playing dead, I fell to the ground. I was covered by the blood of my colleagues and I rolled down into the valley," he added.

The victims&39; families, who often grow angry at Iraq&39;s political class for failing to provide them proper answers, have wondered for months about the fate of their friends and loved ones.