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Mass grave found in Iraq

December 30, 2004

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SULEIMANIYAH, Dec 29: Labourers digging the foundations for a new hospital in Kurdish northern Iraq uncovered a mass grave on Wednesday containing an estimated 60 bodies, local officials said.

The bodies are believed to be the remains of Kurds killed following the 1991 Gulf War by toppled dictator Saddam Hussein's forces trying to put down a rebellion, Kurdish regional human rights minister Salah Rashid said.

The burial site was found in the Dabashan district of Suleimaniyah, Rashid said, adding: "They found the remains of six bodies and we think the grave contains about 60 bodies."

The interim Iraqi government has appealed for foreign help in identifying the hundreds of thousands of bodies discovered since last year's US-led overthrow of Saddam.

A total of 259 mass graves have been found since Saddam was toppled, containing the bodies of 300,000 people believed to have been killed under his regime, although some estimates say the total number slain could reach one million.

Saddam, currently in a US detention centre, faces seven charges of crimes against humanity including a 1987-1988 offensive that saw Kurdish villages razed and the gassing of the village of Halabja that left 5,000 people dead. Another grave containing about 500 bodies, including those of women and children, was found near Suleimaniyah earlier this month.

CLAIM: In a related development, a group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said on Wednesday it had tried to kill Iraqi Shia leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim and warned of more attempts on his life, according to an Internet statement.

"On Monday, a lion from the martyrs' brigade of the Qaeda Organisation of Holy War in Iraq launched an attack on one of the apostates and traitors. Hakim, we tell you that if the arrow has failed to strike you, there are other arrows in our pouch," the statement said. -Reuters/AFP