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In Reclaimed Tikrit, Mass Graves From Brutal ISIS Occupation

Iraqi soldiers salute as they stand next to a mass grave believed to hold Shiite soldiers from Camp Speicher who were killed by Islamic State militants.

As many as 1,700 bodies are believed to be in mass graves that have been unearthed near the site of a massacre of Iraqi soldiers manning a former U.S. military base. The killings took place last summer, when fighters from the self-proclaimed Islamic State seized Tikrit.

Soldiers and forensic teams are sifting through the graves; so far, they have found more than 10 different burial sites that hold what are believed to be the bodies of soldiers and recruits who had been captured at Camp Speicher. The men were then machine-gunned in front of mass graves.

From Baghdad, NPR's Alice Fordham reports:

"The graves are in different areas close to the city of Tikrit, re-taken from ISIS last week.

"Iraqi state television is broadcasting scenes of officials uncovering bodies buried since the recruits were rounded up and killed in June last year. Many relatives of the soldiers are also looking on.

"A survivor of the attack told NPR that ISIS were supported by Sunni local people in their attack on the mostly Shiite soldiers. The area remains fraught, with many Sunni residents afraid of revenge attacks by Shiite-dominated forces who now have the upper hand again."

Several sites are reportedly in what had been the presidential compound of Iraq's former leader, Saddam Hussein, in his hometown of Tikrit.

The mass killing became notorious soon after it took place, with ISIS fighters bragging about their actions online. Last October, the massacre was the centerpiece of a U.N. report that listed a "staggering array" of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by the extremist group.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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