Iraqis waiting at a traffic light in the central province of Babil on Monday were distressed to see a pick-up truck carrying a pile of corpses to a cemetery.
Authorities said photos and videos of the bodies shared widely on Iraqi social media accounts were authentic.
In the images, corpses are seen piled on top of one another in the rear of the truck and covered in black material, with some bare feet visible from the open tailgate.
Despite the disgust it sparked, authorities said all legal obligations for the driver, the vehicle and the permit to bury the nine corpses in the charity cemetery of Wadi As Salam, in the southern city of Najaf, had been met.
“The nine bodies belonged to unidentified people and they were kept in the local mortuary for more than the legal period required by law,” the director of Babil Health Information, Ali Jabbar, told the official Iraqi News Agency on Monday.
He said the onus of transportation is on a charity or a benevolent person, who steps up to help bury the unidentified bodies in local mortuaries across Iraq.
“[But] we usually hand over the corpses first [after the legal period] to the municipality or local police to arrange for [charge-free] burial procedure.”
According to Iraqi law, if none of the deceased’s relatives comes to the hospital to collect the body of a deceased Iraqi citizen within 72 hours of the official pronouncement of death, the body should be kept in the hospital’s refrigerator for 15 days.
If no one claims the body in this time, it will be kept at a government-run Faculty of Medicine for a period of 90 days.
Disgust and anger
Iraqis reacted on social media with disgust at the treatment of the dead bodies.
“It is in many ways the story of our time,” said one tweet, that also used Iraqi slang to curse rampant corruption and dire public services.
There is no official data about the number of unidentified corpses laid to rest every year in Iraq.
But local media outlets reported that the three main charity cemeteries — in Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf — received around 1,000 dead bodies in 2019 and 2020.
Forensic and post-mortem reports have said that some of the unidentified bodies are victims of organised crime networks while others are related to kidnappings and extortion.