As the nightmare of ISIS fades away into the darkness of memory, the light of day unearths the unspeakable atrocities falsely committed in the name of Islam. According to a UN report, more than 200 mass graves have been founded in areas that previously strained under the yoke of ISIS. The UN report is referring only the areas of Iraq that ISIS controlled. Specifically, the mass graves are concentrated in four provinces in the northwestern part of the country — Ninewa, Kiruk, Salah al-Din and Anbar. The ongoing fighting in Syria prevents the examination of that part of ISIS territory.

In the summer of 2014, in its attempt to construct a caliphate, ISIS blitzkrieged through northern Iraq conquering large pieces of territory, and even threatening Baghdad. It took a concentrated US-led coalition to drive back the radical Islamists and reclaim the lost territories. The Iraqi government announced victory over ISIS in December 2017. Jihadist remnants remain active in parts of Syria.

The UN report states that the bodies found in the mass graves include the elderly, women, children, and captured Iraqi soldiers and police officers. Investigators calculated that the mass graves could contain as much as 12,000 bodies. Investigators called the discovery a methodical campaign of violence that “may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

Among others, ISIS especially targeted regional ethnic and religious minorities, gay people, and individuals with ties to the government. For example, in Sinjar, the Yazidi territory, close to 70 mass graves have been found. Previously, the UN had claimed that more than 32,000 Iraqi civilians were murdered and more than 55,000 injured by ISIS.

The al-Khasfa sinkhole, located close to Mosul, is the largest mass grave uncovered thus far, and is believed to contain around 6,000 bodies.

However, according to the lead investigator of the Iraqi Mass Graves Directorate, the UN number could be too small. “I can only say that the number of the victims of the mass graves is much bigger than the numbers in the report,” said Dhia Kareem.

“ISIL’s horrific crimes in Iraq have left the headlines, but the trauma of the victims’ families endures, with thousands of women, men and children still unaccounted for. These graves contain the remains of those mercilessly killed for not conforming to ISIL’s twisted ideology and rule,” said Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations human rights commissioner.

This is an important first step in the criminal procedure that is bound to follow. Forensic evidence discovered in the mass graves will assist in identifying the victims. Then the prosecution of those ISIS fighters that surrendered can begin.