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Militiamen disclose mass graves

Sun., April 13, 2008

BAGHDAD – Confessions from Shiite militiamen led Saturday to the discovery of 15 more bodies dumped in two graves south of Baghdad, officials said – the second such find this week.

Women shrouded in black and holding family photos rushed to the muddy field in Mahmoudiya in hopes of finding missing loved ones as new information emerges on past sectarian bloodletting.

The discovery came two days after the Iraqi troops found the remains of 30 people believed to have been killed more than a year ago buried in three abandoned houses elsewhere in the area.

Mass graves have been turning up with increasing frequency as American and Iraqi military operations have cleared former militant strongholds, allowing troops to step up patrols in previous no-go zones.

The U.S. military said the mass graves unearthed in Mahmoudiya were the first found in the area south of Baghdad, long known as the triangle of death before a recent decline in violence.

The remains were found after recently detained militia leaders confessed to killing dozens of Sunnis as well as Shiite rivals and burying the bodies in the abandoned houses and adjacent fields, according to Iraqi army and city officials.

The find offered new evidence of the atrocities carried out by Shiite death squads that were known for their trademark kidnappings and execution-style killings until they were reined in by an Aug. 29 cease-fire by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the feared Mahdi Army militia.

Bullet-riddled bodies continue to turn up on the streets of Baghdad and other cities, but the numbers are now in the single digits instead of the dozens. An ongoing violent standoff between al-Sadr’s fighters and U.S.-backed Iraqi troops has raised concerns the truce could be at risk.

Thirteen of the bodies found Saturday had been dumped in one grave about 500 yards away from the local office of al-Sadr’s movement, while two others were buried together in a nearby area, city spokesman Ather Kamil said.

Neighbors said it was common knowledge that the Mahdi Army used the three abandoned houses in which the remains were found Thursday as detention centers.

“The Iraqi forces found many decomposed bodies in this house and I think that these dead bodies have been here for a long time and cannot be identified,” said resident Shihab al-Azawi.

Authorities said they have so far been able to identify only two sets of those remains: a 22-year-old Sunni woman whose clothing was recognized by a nurse at the hospital and a 31-year-old Sunni municipality worker who still had his ID.


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