Iraq's pro-government forces discover mass grave in Mosul

The grim discovery comes as government-backed Iraqi forces liberate territories occupied by the 'Islamic State' group. Extremists slaughtered thousands of Yazidi men and turned the women and girls into sex slaves.

Iraqi paramilitary forces said Saturday that they had uncovered a mass grave with the bodies of hundreds of people who were executed by "Islamic State" (IS) militants at Badush prison near Mosul.

It is the latest discovery in Iraq as the country's paramilitary forces continue to take back territory captured by IS three years ago. Iraqi forces have uncovered dozens of mass graves containing hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies, as they push back IS forces after more than two years of heavy fighting, including the current initiative to retake Mosul.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Hoping for help

Perwin Ali Baku escaped the Islamic State after more than two years in captivity. The 23-year-old Yazidi woman was captured together with her 3-year-old daughter. "I don't feel right," she says, sitting on a mattress on the floor of her father-in-law's small hut in a northern Iraq refugee camp. "I still can't sleep and my body is tense all the time."

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Tormenting flashbacks

When Perwin hears a loud voice, she cringes at the thought of her captors. She hopes for help at the newly established institute in Iraq, part of an ambitious project funded by the German state of Baden Württemberg that has already brought 1,100 women who had escaped Islamic State captivity to Germany for psychological treatment.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Kabarto refugee camp

Members of Germany's 100,000 strong Yazidi community reached out to help the women - and the Baden Württemberg state legislature approved a €95-million program ($106 million) over three years to bring women abused by the IS to Germany. Now, help is on the way on-site in Iraq.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

No trauma treatment - yet

As fighting rages between Iraqi forces and the IS in Mosul only about 75 km from Dohuk, the number of victims that make it to freedom increases daily. 26 psychiatrists work in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq with its population of 5.5 million and more than 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced people. None specialize in treating trauma.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Hope on the horizon

German trauma specialist Jan Kizilhan, who has Yazidi roots but immigrated to Germany at the age of 6, is the driving force behind the new institute. The program will train local mental health professionals to treat people like Perwin and thousands of Yazidi women, children and other Islamic State victims.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Training psychotherapists

The idea is to train 30 new professionals for three years and then extend the program to other regional universities: in ten years' time, there could be more than 1,000 psychotherapists in the area. Students will receive a double master's degree in psychotherapy and psychotraumatology according to German standards, and training from both local and German professors.

New hope for Yazidi women tortured by IS fighters

Duty to help

Kizilhan has interviewed thousands of women in refugee camps - and more recently, prospective students for the program's inaugural class: "We are talking about general trauma, we are talking about collective trauma and we are talking about genocide. That's the reason we have to help if we can - it's our human duty to help them."

IS militants reportedly slaughtered as many as 600 people after taking control of Badush in 2014. The militants are also accused of kidnapping hundreds of Yazidi women and holding them at the prison.

The Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella group of pro-government fighters made up primarily of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, were among the forces that recaptured the prison from jihadists, according to the Iraqi military.

Hashed forces found "a large mass grave containing the remains of around 500 civilian prisoners in [Badush] prison who were executed by [IS] gangs after they controlled the prison during their occupation of Mosul," the military said Saturday.

It was not immediately clear how the Hashed reached that figure, which could not be independently verified, but it is in keeping with accounts of IS militants killing hundreds of inmates from Badush.

Lamiya Bashar was forced into sexual slavery by IS militants, and badly injured by a landmine while escaping her captors

Mass graves and sex slaves

Human Rights Watch has reported that IS gunmen executed as many as 600 inmates at the prison on June 10, 2014, forcing them to kneel along a nearby ravine and then shooting them with assault rifles, an account also contained in a United Nations report.

Most of those executed were believed to have been members of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, whom IS considers heretics.

IS abuses at the jail extended beyond the execution of its inmates. Iraqi lawmaker Vian Dakhil said in 2014 that the jihadists held more than 500 Yazidi women at Badush.

Members of the Yazidi religious minority were victims of a vicious campaign of executions, kidnapping and rape. The jihadists killed the men and used the women and girls as sex slaves.

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This is not the first time a mass grave has been uncovered on territory formally held by IS. Iraqi forces found one grave last November that appeared to have more than two dozen bodies. It was in the Hamam al-Alil area south of Mosul.

Earlier this year Iraqi forces found a sinkhole known as the Khasfah, which could be the largest mass grave of the war with IS.

Local residents said IS used it as an execution site and a mass grave where they would dispose of victims.

bik/jlw (AFP, dpa)

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