updated 11/30/2006 9:21:37 AM ET 2006-11-30T14:21:37

The Kurdish woman was killed by a single shot to the back of her head as she knelt at the edge of a mass grave clutching the lifeless body of her infant child.

In the most graphic evidence at Saddam Hussein’s trial for genocide against ethnic Kurds, a U.S. forensics expert told Thursday how he found the remains of hundreds of women and children in three mass graves in northern and southern Iraq.

The woman and her baby were among 25 women and 98 children, some blindfolded, exhumed from a grave in northern Nineveh province, said Sonny Trimble of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

All had pistol shots to the back of the head and were killed as they stood in the grave or knelt at its edge.

He showed the court a picture of the baby, who was wrapped in a blanket in its mother’s arms when they were both shot.

A skeletal hand in the photo was the mother’s, he said, found in the blanket when it was excavated, suggesting she had still been holding her baby as her lifeless body pitched forward into the grave.

“The individuals were taken by force from their villages ... to a remote desert location. Large earth-moving equipment was used to prepare large graves,” Trimble said.

“This was a highly organized program of execution,” he said.

The American heads the multi-national Mass Graves Investigation Team that has spent the past two years analyzing remains excavated from graves that were often deliberately hidden in natural geographic features like wadis.

“The primary thing I want to point out to the court is that the number of children is 61 percent of the individuals in the three graves,” said Trimble.

A total of 183 children were found, almost all under the age of 13. Identification of all the remains had been made more difficult by the terrible damage wrought by the gunshots, he said. “That’s why you won’t see loads of ... people’s faces,” Trimble said.

Mass grave
Trimble said a second mass grave site, in southern Muthanna province, was exceptionally large and shallow because of the soil conditions. Most of the victims, who had been machine-gunned, were children.

“It is very clear that these people were twisting as they were getting shot at. There is a terror that takes over as people try to get out of the way,” he said.

Saddam and six former commanders are on trial for genocide in the Anfal, “Spoils of War”, campaign in 1988. Prosecutors say up to 180,000 people died, many killed in poison gas attacks or executed and dumped in mass graves.

Prosecutors have said the case, which is separate from a trial in which Saddam was sentenced to death earlier this month, would rely heavily on forensic evidence to prove the guilt of the former Iraqi leader and his co-defendants.

The defendants argue that Anfal was a legitimate military operation against Kurdish rebels who were siding against Iraq’s Iranian foe during the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq war.

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