Who buries dead Iraqi soldiers?

Who buries dead Iraqi soldiers?

Who buries dead Iraqi soldiers?

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 9 2003 3:49 PM

Who Buries Dead Iraqi Soldiers?

Cable-news viewers have grown accustomed to the grisly sight of dead Iraqi troops. Do the passing U.S. forces stop to bury the enemy's dead, or do they leave the remains alone?


Military regulations stipulate that "Army units will be required to bury enemy soldiers as time permits," primarily in order to limit the spread of disease. Given the haste with which frontline troops must move, however, the somber task is often left up to support units, who sweep in after the heaviest combat has died down. The chief mission for so-called graves-registration units is to collect the American fallen, so the remains can be shipped back to the United States for proper burial. Their secondary duty is to see that enemy casualties are buried with respect, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions' protocols on the handling of remains. Since the Iraqi military apparently has scant resources available to dedicate to the undertaking, the job has mostly been left up to the United States.

American soldiers charged with burying Iraqis first search the bodies for dangerous items, such as grenades or other explosive ordnance. If the deceased is carrying any sort of personal identification, such as a dog tag or ID card, that information is recorded and relayed back to "mortuary affairs" staffers in Kuwait; when the war is over, they may be able to locate and notify the next of kin, or at least answer questions should a grieving relative inquire. The remains are then placed in black body bags and laid to rest in simple graves dug out with backhoes. Metal posts are used in lieu of headstones.

On occasion, when they have a respite from battle, frontline units will take on burials, provided they have the heavy equipment necessary to dig sufficiently deep trenches. These troops may lack body bags, in which case the enemies are buried without. Still, markers are always left, and identification details are recorded. The idea is that rapid burial, however unadorned, is preferable to letting the remains be picked apart by wild dogs and other scavengers.

American troops do their best to bury Iraqi troops in accordance with Muslim tradition—with bodies interred to point toward Mecca, for example—but the rituals can't be perfect. Graves-registration units often feature female soldiers, and Muslim custom forbids women from handling male remains.

Bonus Explainer: Though the repatriation of American remains is always a top priority for U.S. forces, that may not be possible in the event of chemical or biological attack. In January, the Pentagon announced that Americans killed under such circumstances would likely be cremated and buried on the spot to curtail the spread of lethal gas or contagions.

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