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Saddam regime executed 61,000

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein’s government may have executed 61,000 Baghdad residents, a number significantly higher than previously believed, according to a survey obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

The bloodiest massacres of Saddam’s 23-year presidency occurred in Iraq’s Kurdish north and Shiite Muslim south, but the Gallup Baghdad Survey data indicates the brutality extended strongly into the capital as well.

The survey, which the polling firm planned to release on Tuesday, asked 1,178 Baghdad residents in August and September whether a member of their household had been executed by Saddam’s regime. According to Gallup, 6.6 percent said yes.

The polling firm took metropolitan Baghdad’s population – 6.39 million – and average household size – 6.9 people – to calculate that 61,000 people were executed during Saddam’s rule. Most are believed to have been buried in mass graves.

The U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq has said that at least 300,000 people are buried in mass graves in Iraq. Human rights officials put the number closer to 500,000, and some Iraqi political parties estimate more than 1 million were executed.

Without exhumations of those graves, it is impossible to confirm a figure. Scientists told The Associated Press during a recent investigation that they have confirmed 41 mass graves on a list of suspected sites that currently includes 270 locations.

Forensic teams will begin to exhume four of those graves next month in search of evidence for a new tribunal, expected to be established this week, that will try members of the former regime for crimes against humanity and genocide. More graves will later be added to the list.

But nobody expects all the mass graves to be exhumed, and nobody expects to ever know the full number of Iraqis executed by their government.

Richard Burkholder, who headed Gallup’s Baghdad team, said the numbers in Baghdad could be high for two reasons: People may have understood “household” to be broader than just the people living at their address; and some families may have moved to the capital from other areas since the executions occurred.

“Anecdotal accounts start to support it, but they don’t get you to 60,000,” he said in a telephone interview from Princeton, N.J.

Even reducing the numbers slightly because of those possibilities, however, Burkholder said the number of executions the data suggest is higher than previously estimated, in the low tens of thousands.

The deadliest atrocity associated with Saddam’s government was the scorched-earth campaign known as the “Anfal,” in which the government killed an estimated 180,000 Kurds in Iraq’s far north. Many were buried in mass graves far from home in the southern desert.