HELSINKI, Finland – Finnish forensic experts will travel to Iraq on Wednesday to examine mass graves for evidence to be used in a war crimes trial against Saddam Hussein, the team’s leader said Friday.
The government-sponsored group will spend six weeks digging trenches, measuring the depth and size of the graves, and assessing the amount and condition of the bodies. Most of the mass graves are from the post Gulf War period, but there also are older ones.
“The graves are in the hundreds, and the victims number hundreds of thousands, but under 500,000,” Helena Ranta, the group leader, told The Associated Press.
Ranta said her estimates were based on information from Iraq’s U.S.-appointed Coalition Provisional Authority, which requested a team from Finland, a neutral country that opposed the war.
The five-member team will report its findings to coalition officials.
Ranta, a forensic dentist from the University of Helsinki, has led similar expeditions in the Balkans providing information about mass graves in the case against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. She said her mission was the “first step” in a possible case against Saddam.
“No request has yet come for the exhumation of bodies, but I would not be surprised if we were asked to help with that too,” Ranta said.
“Our work will take us to all parts of Iraq, with the exception of the area west of Baghdad,” Ranta said, but declined to give more accurate information about locations.
“The idea is to get maximum information with minimum disturbance,” Ranta said. “We want to try and keep them, as much as possible, in the same condition they are in until the exhumations begin.”
A request from U.S. officials to provide forensic teams was turned down by several countries, including Sweden and the Netherlands. Finland agreed, because it was viewed as a humanitarian mission, the government said.