The number of missing persons in Iraq ranges from 250,000 to over one million, according to different public sources in Iraq and includes persons missing as a consequence of human rights violations and other atrocities committed during the regime of Saddam Hussein, as well as years of armed conflict. In addition, the Medico-Legal Institute (MLI) in Baghdad reports that it receives an average of 800 bodies per month since 2003 and is unable to identify a significant proportion of these.Despite on-going problems and security concerns, the Iraqi Government has taken steps to address the issue of missing persons. These include issuing a decree in February 2005 to create a National Centre for Missing and Disappeared Persons and drafting a Law on Missing Persons and a Law on Protection of Mass Graves. The Law on Protection of Mass Graves has been approved by the National Assembly. These are important measures that reflect the medium to long-term challenges with regard to missing persons.

An Iraqi expert attends ICMP’s site assessments training at a mass grave near Srebrenica, Bosnia and HerzegovinaDespite the unstable security situation, ICMP has been able to provide limited assistance to the Iraqi Government through the Ministry for Human Rights since 2004 to address this problem. This assistance has included the formulation of policy initiatives to address the needs of the families of the missing and to create a technical plan to locate, recover and identify the missing, while at the same time building the institutional and legal capacity necessary to house this process. In addition, ICMP provides training for staff members of the MLI and the Ministry for Human Rights and has hosted exchange visits of family association members, as well as visits by the Minister for Human Rights and the staff of the Office of the Prime Minister to ICMP facilities.

The current training for Ministry staff seeks to support the Law on Protection of Mass Graves by providing staff members with the ability to conduct site assessments and to properly record mass grave sites. ICMP has also provided the Iraqi Government with a proposal to attempt to identify the large number of unidentified mortal remains in the custody of the MLI.

The continued fighting in Iraq has limited the scope for helping the country to address the issue of missing persons. Even when the security situation improves, this will be a major long-term challenge.