Iraq’s Najaf, the world’s biggest and oldest cemetery, through its gravediggers’eyes
In the city of Najaf, Iraq lies Wadi Al-Salam, the world’s largest and oldest graveyard. The name means “Valley of Peace” in Arabic. It is said that five million souls are buried in Najaf, which has been a cemetery for at least 1,400 years.
For many gravediggers, the work is a family tradition. One gravedigger started sixty years ago. As a soldier during the Iran-Iraq War, he became accustomed to being surrounded by death. However, even he has noticed the increasing number of funerals in Najaf every time a new war hits his country.
Saraya Salam militia, formerly known as the Mahdi Army, first opposed US forces and then ISIS. It has its own section in the cemetery. A militia spokesman reveals his reasons for joining the group and the true cause of the heavy Iraqi death toll, so apparent in Wadi Al-Salam.
Novice gravediggers are now learning the ropes, but do they really want to spend their lives surrounded by the dead?