Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOW BIG IS WADI-US-SALAAM CEMETERY?....As we all know, there's currently a lot of fighting going on in Najaf, home of the Imam Ali Mosque and one of the holiest cities of Shiite Islam. It's also home of the adjoining Wadi-us-Salaam (Valley of Peace) cemetery, a vast and ancient burial ground that's become the site of much of the fighting.

But just how vast is it? News accounts make the following suggestions, in order of alleged grandiosity:

"one of the biggest and most revered in the world by Shiite Muslims"

"the largest cemetery in the Middle East"

"the largest in the Arab world"

"Islam's biggest"

"one of the largest graveyards on the planet"

"the second largest in the entire world"

"the world's biggest cemetery"

This disagreement isn't surprising since there doesn't appear to even be a firm consensus about how big Wadi-us-Salaam is either physically or in number of burials. CNN claims it is approximately 3km by 5km or 3,500 acres but this satellite photo seems more authoritative and puts its size at 1,485 acres. The most common estimate of the number of people buried there seems to be about 5 million.

But how does that compare to other cemeteries? The Guiness Book of World Records claims that the world's biggest cemetery is the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg, Germany, but at 990 acres and 1.4 million burials, it doesn't seem to be in the same league. What's more, even in Europe the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna has more burials (2.5 million people) and Brookwood Cemetery ("London's Necropolis") is physically bigger at 2,000 acres (but only 232,000 burials).

By comparison, Arlington National Cemetery weighs in at a svelte 200 acres and 260,000 burials; Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, the famously kitschy final resting place of, among others, my grandparents, is only slightly bigger at 300 acres; and even Rose Hills Memorial Park, which claims to be the "largest single-operated cemetery in the world," is only 1,400 acres.

So what's the biggest cemetery in the world? Wadi-us-Salaam gets my vote so far. Does anyone have a serious contender for a larger one?

UPDATE: Edmund Sanders of the LA Times provides a good sense of what it's like for U.S. forces to fight a battle in the heart of the world's biggest cemetery. "It's a little creepy"....

Kevin Drum 5:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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