November 20, 2007 – NAJAF, Iraq – Gravediggers uncovered the remains of at least 13 people from a mass grave on Tuesday which Iraqi officials said was the work of Saddam Hussein’s bloody crackdown on a 1991 Shi’ite rebellion.
Gravediggers crouched in a large rectangular pit chipping bone fragments out of the dry earth and cradling the dusty skulls they uncovered.
Police looked on as the remains were placed in piles after an excavation in a rural area north of Najaf, some 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad following a tip-off by a farmer.
Those in the grave had taken part in the Shaabaniya uprising, a 1991 revolt in southern Iraq against Saddam Hussein in which tens of thousands of Iraqis died, a spokesman for the Najaf provincial government said.
“There is knowledge that there is more than one mass grave in this area,” said spokesman Ahmed Diabil.
He said the remains of 13 bodies had been found by Tuesday afternoon and excavation was expected to continue on Wednesday.
The rebellion in Iraq’s primarily Shi’ite south, and a simultaneous one in Kurdish areas in the north, erupted after a U.S.-led coalition kicked Saddam’s army out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War.
Rebels seized control of many towns in the south but Saddam’s forces launched a counterassault, backed by tanks and helicopters, killing tens of thousands of those who rose up. Many others later died in prison.
Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, commonly known as “Chemical Ali”, is on trial with 14 other defendants, mostly former military commanders, for their role in crushing the rebellion. He has already been sentenced to death in a separate trial and is awaiting execution.
Separately on Tuesday, security spokesman Brigadier-General Qassim Moussawi said the number of bodies discovered last week in several locations in the mainly Sunni Arab area of Baghdad had risen to 50, from 30 originally found.
Moussawi blamed al Qaeda for those deaths.
(Additional reporting by Ali Abu Shish in Najaf and Aseel Kami and Waleed Ibrahim in Baghdad; Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Elisabeth O’Leary)