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  Updated: November 6, 2009

Corpses smuggling a new trade in Iraq

By:Nabil Raza

PARIS, France: Cadavers, or corpses, is an older and more surprising commodity being smuggled into Iraq, according to a report. The transfer of the dead was stopped during the past 30 years of rebellions, invasion and war with Iran but once again it is now a big business.

For centuries, Shiite Muslims from all over the world have sought to be buried in what might be the world's largest cemetery known as Wadi-us Salam or the Valley of Peace, in the holy city of Najaf that houses the holy shrine of Amir-ul Mominin Al-Imam Ali (AS).

Incalculable tombs and crypts stretch for miles in every direction as far as the eye can see.

As long as there have been funerals here, there has been an industry to receive the dead and their families.

80-year-old Dakhil Shakir has spent his lifetime in the cemetery. His earliest memories are of helping his father and grandfather with the business of funerals and burials.

Five generations of Dakhil Shakir's family have worked in the funeral trade in Najaf.

He recalls that when he was a boy, desert caravans brought the dead to Najaf.

"They used to bring the dead on mules," Shakir says. "A mule would carry two bodies, with five mules in the caravan. I have seen that with my own eyes. They would stay here for a few days, and we used to offer them a place to stay, and later, they would set off back home."

As early as the 16th century the transport of Shiite corpses from as far as India was big business. The Ottoman Empire taxed and regulated the trade, as did the first governments of modern Iraq. Most of the coffins came from Iran. Sometimes the bodies would be buried a few years in their home country and then transferred to Najaf. In later years some even came by airplane.

The trade ground to a halt with the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and then Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

A corpse smuggler told on condition of anonymity that today, it costs thousands of dollars in taxes and fees to transfer a body legally to Najaf. Only the rich can afford it.

"Smugglers from Iran and Iraq organize the operation," the smuggler says. "They meet on dark nights by small rivers and marshes between the two countries. They bribe the guards, and the bodies cross the border."

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