In an effort to excavate the site, bones were uncovered by local residents, alongside personal items — engraved dog tags, identification cards, photographs, weapons, blood-stained tatters of uniform and perforated helmets — belonging to Iraqi army soldiers (deployed either with 1st mechanised infantry or 9th armoured divisions) in the context of the eight year Iraq-Iran war.
37 years on, POWs fate uncovered
Using photographic and video evidence presented below, FRB was able to geolocate the site of the mass grave. The bodies of military personnel were found 30 kilometers west of Susa. The surrounding area is referred to by locals as ‘El Ruqabiyyeh’ that, one resident explained, “was a point of entry for the Iraqi army.”
The nearest village to where the discovery was made, as FRB can confirm, that the bones excavated were buried mid way between two villages, Farhan Khabour, and Susa— the site of a former ancient city, located in the lower Zagros Mountains, approximately 250 km east of the Tigris River.
The location of the burial site, marks out the same territory that Iraqi soldiers seized during its occupation of southwestern Iran — 12 thousand square kilometers (roughly the size of Belgium) — a watershed moment in the war that posed the biggest challenge to the then-nascent Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranians launched counter-operations in Khorramshahr and Ahwaz to reverse what Iraq, at the time, viewed as its greatest feat in that war uptil that given moment. Iran eventually took back lost territory in a series of operations but various sources published under Iranian-state media, confirm suspicions of an “Iranian massacre perpetrated by Iranian forces” allayed to FRB by a retired Iraqi commander of the National Army.
“The monument of Baghdad’s east side, Nasb al-Shahid or Martyr’s Momument, erected in late 1982, grew in response to news leaked to Iraqi embassy staff stationed in Italy, of a savage murder of our soldiers in a mass execution” the commander told FRB’s investigation team. December 1st was marked out as a new national day of commemoration of Iraq’s fallen soldiers; conceived of, our source verifies, in remembrance of Iraqis soldiers killed by Iran’s forces, against the backdrop of battles in Khorramshahr. Another source offers a similar purview; “According to the Iraqi narrative, on that day the year before, the Iranian committed an “obscene massacre,” killing many Iraqi prisoners of war in complete violation of international law” (Elie Podeh 2011:153).
Across English-language accounts of the martyr’s monument and the impetus to construct it in 1981, the majority zoom carefully in on the symbolic texture of the physical memorial as a cultural artefact but overlook the true causes and how these may have criss-crossed with ground offenses in major battle grounds. Based on gathered evidence, testimonies and exclusive interviews, FRB has been able to independently verify that the skeletal remains found, alongside personal items, belong to members of the 1st mechanised infantry and 9th armoured division — the only forces of the army to have entered Iranian Arab territory — revealing the lack of accuracy and incompleteness of existing narratives regarding the treatment and fate of POWs during the course of the bloody war both sides fought.
In light of this evidence, our team suspects that there could be more remains and graves yet to be uncovered — in the surrounding vicinity. One of the villagers that discovered the remains as he and others scoured the area in search of land suitable for cultivation, explained the discover in situ; “we were searching for land and as we dug we hit against the bones. As we dug, we unearthed human bones, some of which were heaped, but with time it seems some had scattered”.
Indisputable evidence which surfaced in the excavation has been cross-referenced against a series of documents, photo-evidence, taken from the wider pool of Iranian State Media sources — discussed in the section below. Conclusion drawn from the analysis are chilling and reveal that a mass execution of Iraqi soldiers held as Prisoners of War [POW] was perpetrated by Iran. The incident can be squared with Iranian newspaper reports providing coverage of the “collective execution of Iraqi POWs”. Images displayed below offer disclosure of the latter, although grainy, bodies of dead soldiers, in uniform, piled in heaps that stretch further than is shown in the frame of both photographs.
On May 26 1982, Iranian officials stated that “some 12,000 Iraqi prisoners” were captured as Iraq lost control of Khorramshahr/Abadan, during operation code named “Jerusalem” launched on April 30, 1982. Iranian forces besieged the city to reclaim control of the Khorramshahr-Ahvaz road, city’s capital (Ahwaz), surrounding areas in the garrison town of Dezful, which Iraqi forces held for 20 months. As the Guardian correspondent David Hirst reported from Lebanon at the time; “In the Iranian assault, late on Saturday night, Iraqi defences west and north-west of the port were broken and a bridge Pol-e-Noo … was seized, cutting off the Iraqis means of retreat”. At the time Iraqis drove into Abadan, south of Khorramshahr, it was reported that 563 Iranian soldiers were taken prisoner.
Against this backdrop, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq’s formation in November 1982 suggests that the mullahs envisaged the creation on an Iranian-style Islamic Republic led by Ayatollah Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim.
Zakaria Al-Qaq, a professor of national security studies at Al Quds University, wrote in 1987 that during the offensive “The Iranians estimated that the Iraqi forces had suffered 11,000 casualties … 17,000 prisoners. In total, Al-Qaq places the total number of Iraqi prisoners of war captured inside Iran at “500,000”. A transcription of a speech delivered on May 23 by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani speech published online reveals similar numbers;
“We took back the city and arrested all occupiers in the city. We besieged the city and took it back … Khorramshahr was liberated and 19,000 Iraqi soldiers were taken as prisoners of war” Rouhani said during a speech delivered at the 12th National Congress in commemoration of the Iranian victims of that war. In July 2008 in an interview with on Islamic Republic of Iran News Network late Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani disclosed the same figure; “On that day, we captured 19,000 Iraqi troops as prisoners of war. All the world media at the time regarded us the victorious side on the battlefield”.
The confession of Iranian MP Ghazipour
Hardliner Iranian parliamentarian Nader Ghazipour was recorded on Iranian state television confessing to the murder of 700 Iraqi POWS shortly after the conservative position secured his seat in parliament, while the crowd in attendance jeered and cheered Ghazipour has he defended the murders he oversaw as ‘defence of the revolution’. In the video he states clearly that he decapitated 200 himself.
IRGC ordered shut-down of burial site
The confiscation of the remains of Iraqi soldiers found in southern west Iran by IRGC members, was followed by the re-acquisition of the field and surrounding fields where human bones were excavated. The area of Ahwaz, as known to its Arab population, told FRB that the oil and gas-rich area is heavily surveilled and administered by IRGC forces. Locals told FRB that the legacy of landmines, a dangerous vestige of the Iran-Iraq war, has kept locals away and placed the area under entrenched IRGC administration.
“It’s a militarised and securitised environment. The land we dug was off-limits in the past but when it was cleared from mines, it was handed back over for local farmers to cultivate. After we found the human remains, we notified the authority — there’s no one other than the IRGC — and they confiscated everything haphazardly and carelessly gathered everything, before taking off. They put everything in sacks and drove away. The land since then [Monday] was confiscated.
“Signs that read ‘off-limits’ visibly dot the landscape” another resident told FRB.
“We found helmets, guns, no artillery, and a heap of personal items” one of the men involved in the excavation told FRB, “and name tags and love letters. Another thing that we were struck by was that weapons dug up were not loaded and that some rifles had an attached sword bayonet".
During the war Iraqi soldiers were issued stainless steel dog tags with identifying information such as their name and blood type inscribed, FRB can confirm. The names of the tags were still visible etched and reading at the time of the exhumation. Locals bravely shared images of these tags and other belongings, keen, they told FRB, to relieve the families of missing soldiers and restore basic dignity to them.
Counting the number skulls uncovered during the excavation was the method used to determine the number of soldiers killed. “Many were found with gun shots in the head” the local said, evidence of a pattern on injury synonymous to ‘execution by a firing squad’. “It appears that they had run out of ammunition” a local involved in the excavation told FRB. Injuries sustained by soldiers, as gathered evidence was able to show, … illustrative of the tragedy that befell these young men that served under the 1st and 9th Iraqi army divisions during fierce battles between the years 1980 and 1983. The year in between, 1982, during which Iraqi and Irani forces fiercely sparred over Khorramshahr, was a particular flashpoint.
A call to action
POWs are subject to clearly defined international laws of which summary execution is considered a crime under the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Hague Convention and the 2nd protocol of the Geneva Convention (1977).
From the factual basis and evidence to these concerns require urgent attention and we urge the International Criminal Court and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to undertake a fact finding mission to the area in question in order to investigate and determine the scope of the extrajudicial massacre that took place and to conduct an isotopic analysis.