Packed Iraq morgue reveals burial challenges

  • 13/04/2017
A morgue housing the latest casualties of the war between IS militants and Iraqi forces has revealed a mass of bodies (File)

A large morgue housing the latest casualties of the war between Islamic State militants and Iraqi forces has revealed a mass of bodies.

Inside, around two dozen corpses lie on the floor; in body bags, several wrapped in blankets and a few so torn to shreds they arrive in sacks.

Almost all of the bodies are victims of the ongoing battle to extricate Islamic State militants from Mosul.

On the deadliest day yet, 21 bodies arrived at the hospital in the town of Qayyara.

The morgue relays the significant toll the continual conflict is having on civilians, but also illustrates the practical challenges of dealing with the dead.

Hospital staff themselves had to purchase the cable connecting the morgue fridge to the power supply, and space is limited.

Until recently, the sole place in the region authorised to issue death certificates was the department of forensic medicine in west Mosul, which remains under Islamic State control.

This meant bodies had to be driven hundreds of kilometres away to Tikrit or Erbil, and vehicles were often delayed at checkpoints along the way, if not turned back.

To resolve the issue, the Iraqi government has now authorised the hospital in Qayyara to issue death certificates, except when the victim's identity or cause of death are unclear.

In those instances, the body is transferred to a mortuary on the eastern side of Mosul, which is under the control of Iraqi security forces.

An autopsy is conducted if necessary, and the body is buried in a numbered grave so it can be found in the future.

Dr Modhar Alomary said they wait for a period before burial, depending on how full the fridges are.

Dr Alomary declined to tally the bodies he had received, but fears that when fighting stops more will come.

This is when the task of uncovering mass graves where IS threw its opponents before executing them will begin.

Human Rights Watch believe a sinkhole south of Mosul, thought to be the largest site, may contain as many as 4,000 bodies.

Numerous civilians killed in Mosul were buried in gardens by relatives who were unable to reach a graveyard during the fighting, and now want to give them a proper burial.