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Iraqi investigators were probing a mass grave on Tuesday, which was discovered on Monday by troops advancing further into Islamic State-held territory near the city of Mosul, where soldiers have captured a sliver of land but later halted their advance. The chilling find was the latest instance of mass graves being uncovered on ground wrested from IS militants. In Iraq and Syria so far, the group has killed thousands of people in extrajudicial killings that graves a dark testimony to its brutality. Associated Press footage from the site shows bones and decomposed bodies among scraps of clothing and plastic bags dug out of the ground by a bulldozer after Iraqi troops noticed the strong smell while advancing into the town of Hamam al-Alil on Monday. “Investigators flew in this morning and are on their way to the grave to conduct examinations and determine the cause of death,” said Cabinet official Haider Majeed, in charge of mass grave investigations.
The first officials at the site said the grave, behind an earthen embankment near an agricultural college, likely holds about 100 bodies, many of them decapitated. The town lies some 30 kilometres from Mosul. It was unclear who the victims were, but a soldier at the site pulled a child’s stuffed animal from the scraps of clothing and rotting flesh, swarming with flies. IS militants have carried out a series of massacres since seizing large swaths of southern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014, often documenting them with photos and videos circulated online.
In Geneva, the UN human rights office said it was investigating whether the discovery at Hamam al-Alil was connected to reports about the alleged killing of police officers in the same area.
“We had reports that 50 former Iraqi police officers had been killed in a building outside Mosul city,” spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. “This building was actually the same agricultural college, that has been cited right now as the site of these mass graves.” The campaign to drive IS fighters from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the extremists’ last major urban stronghold in the country, began on October 17.