CBSN

Iraqis Uncover Mass Graves

Members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite group, work with shovels and bare hands, Iraqis on Sunday May 4, 2003 excavated what appeared to be a mass grave filled with the remains of dozens of people who apparently were executed after a 1991 Shiite uprising, in Khan Al-Rubea in 20 kms north of Najaf city on May 4, 2003
AP
With shovels and their bare hands, Iraqis on Sunday excavated a mass grave filled with the remains of dozens of people who witnesses said were executed after a 1991 Shiite uprising.

The rebellion was encouraged by the United States but crushed without American intervention by Saddam Hussein.

Fragments of watches, a woman's blue slipper, bloody clothing and pieces of traditional black cloaks often worn by Iraqi women were found at the gravesite, some 13 miles northwest of Najaf, one of the most holy cities for Shiite Muslims. Bullet casings also were found near the graves.

More than 25 bodies were unearthed Saturday, and at least 10 had been identified, local Iraqis said. About 47 sets of remains, including those of women, were uncovered Sunday afternoon. The men and women were apparently lined up and shot.

Some bodies had identification cards in their pockets.

"I'm looking for my own relatives," said Jawad Shaker, who came to the site on Sunday. Another person said he was looking for his nephew who disappeared in 1991.

In other developments:

  • Another U.S. soldier has died in Iraq. U.S. Central Command says it appears to be an accidental shooting involving the soldier's own gun. The incident occurred yesterday near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
  • U.N. officials are warning of a humanitarian disaster in Iraq if vital services aren't restored quickly. Relief is beginning to trickle into the nation, but electricity in Iraq remains sporadic and one organization estimates forty percent of people don't have access to clean water.
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell is telling the Pentagon to move faster and figure out which prisoners at Guantanamo Bay can be released. Sources say Powell wrote a "strongly worded" letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking why it is taking so long to reach a "final determination" on the prisoners' fate.
  • Iraq war commander General Tommy Franks has returned to his headquarters in Tampa, Florida, with little fanfare.
  • Two harsh critics of the Iraq war have endorsed a U.S. plan to divide Iraq into three zones. France and Germany Saturday reluctantly backed the plan, which involves a stabilization force that excludes them. The United States plans to set up an international military force in three regions of Iraq, with Poland and Britain controlling two zones and U.S. forces the third.
  • The military is taking steps to protect itself in Baghdad. In a briefing Saturday at the 94th Engineering Battalion, staff members were told U.S. troops had been forbidden to buy drinks or cigarettes from street vendors because of rumors some items had been poisoned or tainted.
  • The U.S. Army has deployed combat stress teams to Iraq. They're working their way through every unit to identify soldiers who need help and teach them to deal with flashbacks, nightmares and agitation that typifies post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • The U.S. Army is sending its most experienced peacekeeping unit to Iraq, where public resentment at military occupation is running high. The 1st Armored Division in Wiesbaden, Germany, will start arriving in Iraq over the next two weeks.
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined for Syria's president the policy changes the United States believes he must make to survive alongside a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Powell and Bashar Assad met for three hours in Damascus.
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell says Syria has begun forcing terrorist groups out of Damascus. Powell had meetings with Lebanese leaders before returning to Washington.

    The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite group, was directing the excavation of the mass grave site and said it was preparing a special section of a cemetery to rebury those who it called the "martyrs"' of 1991.

    Tens of thousands of people were killed after Iraq's Shiite majority rose up with the encouragement of the United States after the 1991 Gulf War and seized control of most of the southern part of the country. Shiites, a minority in the Islamic world, make up 60 percent of Iraq's Muslims and were ruled for a generation by Saddam Hussein's overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Baath Party.

    Iraqi forces used helicopter gunships and tanks to defeat the lightly armed rebels. The United States controlled Iraq's skies at the time but did not intervene. Thousands of people are believed to have been executed after the failed revolt.

    On Sunday, five people were digging at the site. Farmers in the area said they had known about the site for years but were scared to talk about it while Saddam was still in power.

    One farmer, who refused to give his name, said he saw people blindfolded and shot in the back of the head after the uprising.

    "Everybody knew and could see, but they kept quiet," said Kamel al-Tamini, another farmer living in the area. "We were told to stay away from this area, not to go near it, that it was a security zone."

    A few miles away, U.S. Marines guarded another site where two bodies and four bullet casing were found. A red keffiyah could be seen wrapped around the eyes of one of the skulls.

    "This is the tip of the iceberg in this country," said Marine Capt. Mike Urena.

    About 50 miles to the northeast, in a field on the outskirts of the ancient city of Babylon, residents kept vigil Sunday at a suspected mass grave they linked to Saddam Hussein's government.

    About 25 skulls — many arranged on blankets — sat in the sun as Iraqis mourned and tried to identify loved ones. About half of the skulls had been cut open meticulously with hacksaws.

    Locals said government operatives would arrive at night, dig holes and bury bodies mixed with large amounts of trash. The area was off-limits under Saddam's regime, they said.

    "This is our land, and the Iraqi government took it," said one man who identified himself only as the "father of Adnan." He and others said the government had been apparently trying to conceal the bodies by mixing the trash in.

    Residents said the U.S. military visited the site Saturday and told people to stop digging. So on Sunday, women cried and men reminisced as they gazed at the bones at the field's edge.