Iraqi DNA Experts Visit ICMP

Iraqi delegation and ICMP staff members at the end of visit

Iraqi delegation and ICMP staff members at the end of visit

A delegation of Iraqi DNA experts visited the headquarters of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) for a short-term, hands-on training program in the use of DNA to identify persons missing from the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The training in DNA identity testing follows several years of building the capacity of Iraqi authorities to tackle the daunting task of locating and identifying over a quarter of a million missing persons.

Since 2008, ICMP has been cooperating with Iraqi authorities, namely with the Ministry of Human Rights, the Ministry of Health, the Martyrs Foundation, the Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs and the Kurdish Regional Government’s Ministry of Health.

Through its efforts, ICMP helped Iraq create a technical plan to locate, recover and identify the missing and has trained 170 Iraqi experts in proper excavation and exhumation techniques through its offices in Baghdad and Erbil.

The Iraqi DNA experts toured two parts of ICMP’s DNA identification system: the DNA laboratory in Sarajevo and the Identification Coordination Division (ICD) in Tuzla. They were provided presentations and training in the following areas: DNA extraction and profiling from biological samples, with an emphasis on extraction from skeletal remains, DNA kinship matching procedures, the importance of chain of custody in laboratory activities involving criminal evidence, ICMP’s procedure for DNA match report validation and other topics.

The delegation was introduced to the ICMP Forensic Data Management System, custom-made computer software program developed in-house by ICMP’s software developers that enables storage and analysis of information starting from mass grave excavation, to anthropological and pathological examination to storage and matching of genetic profiles of missing persons through a high throughput system.

“We thank ICMP for the opportunity to learn about how to conduct high throughput identity testing,” said Hawre Dlzar Abdulrahman, the Director of the Mass Grave Department at the Medico-Legal Institute in Erbil. “We are in the process of building our search and identification process in Iraq, and since ICMP has gained the trust of the Iraqi society and the scientific community we are hoping to receive further advice on setting up a DNA-led identification process in Iraq, and Kurdistan in specific,“ he added.

“Iraq is determined to achieve results in the search and identification of our missing. We are hoping for a long-term partnering and mentoring from ICMP and would like to send more Iraqi experts to raise their level of quality and professionalism to ICMP standards“, said Head of DNA Lab for Mass Graves at the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad, following the last training session today.

“We are very honored to receive Iraqi scientists in a visit. The key to resolving the issue of missing persons in Iraq is ensuring complete transparency and cooperation between different DNA labs and authorities in Iraq. The number of missing persons in Iraq is beyond imagination and it will take huge scientific and political efforts to resolve this”, said Head of ICMP’s Iraq Program, Johnathan McCaskill.

This visit was made possible through the financial support of the US State Department.