Kerbala mass grave may have links to Shia rising

An Iraqi collects human bones at a site in Kerbala yesterday, where officials said they found the skeletal remains of 31 people in what they described as a mass grave.

An Iraqi collects human bones at a site in Kerbala yesterday, where officials said they found the skeletal remains of 31 people in what they described as a mass grave.

 

Iraq: Iraqi officials have said they have found the skeletal remains of 31 people in what they described as a mass grave in the Shia holy city of Kerbala.

A senior official at the laboratory to which the bodies were taken said yesterday the people appeared to have died during the suppression of a Shia uprising against Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War.

"There are 31 bodies," the official said. "We're still testing, but it appears they are victims of the events of 1991."

There had been confusion over the scale of the find at a building site for a sewage project in the city centre, with police initially saying there were 150 bodies; police spokesman Rahman Mishawi later revised that to "dozens" of sets of remains.

A reporter at the scene saw one sack filled with what appeared to be human bones.

With Saddam Hussein on trial for crimes against humanity, the Shia-led government is keen to remind Iraqis of their suffering under his Sunni-dominated administration. Some minority Sunni Arab leaders have accused police and other government officials of exaggerating accounts of atrocities and of using Saddam's trial for sectarian political advantage.

Some 300 possible mass graves have been reported since Saddam's fall in April 2003, many in southern Shia areas of the country and in Kurdish areas of the north. Human rights activists estimate that hundreds of thousands of people disappeared during Saddam's rule.

Meanwhile, Iraq's most powerful Shia Islamist figure met Kurdish leaders in the north yesterday, opening a series of talks among rival factions intended to ease friction and begin building a governing coalition.

In Baghdad, several thousand supporters of secular former prime minister Iyad Allawi marched in the latest street protest against the results of the December 15th vote, demanding a rerun of a ballot that gave close to a majority to the Shia Alliance, which, with its Kurdish allies, controls the interim government.

Privately, however, many disappointed leaders acknowledge the results will stand and say they will negotiate a coalition.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Alliance component party Sciri, met Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani in the regional capital, Arbil. Kurdish officials said he would follow that with talks today with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, who leads the Kurdish bloc alongside his long-time rival Mr Barzani.

There is general agreement, supported with emphasis by the US, that a "national unity" government is required to address sharply opposing interests among the armed communities.

Three people were killed and six wounded in attacks in the northern oil city of Kirkuk and the town of Mahaweel, 75km (50 miles) south of Baghdad yesterday. The US military said four Americans died on Monday, two of them in a helicopter crash.

Police in the capital found three bodies bearing marks of torture and bullet wounds, while in Sunni Arab bastion of Samarra, 100km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, gunmen abducted the head of a pharmaceuticals factory and six of his bodyguards. - (Reuters)