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Mass Graves Unearthed In Karbala

Municipal workers doing maintenance work in the Shiite holy city of Karbala uncovered remains that police believed were part of a mass grave thought to date back to the early 1990s, when Saddam Hussein's regime crushed a Shiite uprising in the south.

The remains, which were discovered on Monday, were sent for tests on Tuesday in an effort to identify the bodies, a Karbala police spokesman said.

The men who claim to have discovered the graves were working on underground sewer lines, CBS' Jennifer Donelan reports.

Police will not say how many bodies were found.

Ayad Mashaalah, a local restaurant owner, said he saw bags filled with decomposed bones and corpses. Mashaalah said human rights workers came and took the bags, which are thought to date back to 1991.

BBC estimates that as many as 30,000 people could have been killed and buried in mass graves during the particular Shiite uprising thought to be the source of Monday's finding.

The apparent discovery came amidst a surge of post-election violence in Iraq, with at least two dozen people — including two U.S. soldiers — killed in shootings and bombings Monday and 18 on Sunday.

In related developments:

  • An inmate in a Baghdad prison grabbed an assault rifle from a guard and opened fire on other guards and prisoners, killing at least eight people and injuring three, police said. The prisoner fired indiscriminately after grabbing the AK-47, killing four guards and four inmates, said Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Jalil al-Mehamadawi.
  • Poland's government wants to keep its troops in Iraq for another year. But the numbers would decline from about 1,500 to 900. If President Lech Kaczynski agrees to the prime minister's request, it would reverse a decision by Poland's previous government to bring troops home within the next few weeks.
  • Also, the last Ukrainian and Bulgarian troops have left Iraq, the countries said Tuesday, marking the latest of several U.S. allies to draw down force levels as public demand weighs on government leaders. Poland's deputy defense minister said Tuesday that Poland would reduce troop levels in March, from nearly 1,500 to 900. The announcement came after Poland's government asked President Lech Kaczynski to keep Polish troops in Iraq for another year.
  • Saddam Hussein is hiring more lawyers. He's added three more Arab attorneys to his defense team. The former Iraqi dictator now has seven men defending him on charges of killing scores of Shiite Muslims after a 1982 attempt on his life. One of the new lawyers says he decided to join Saddam's defense to protest the occupation of Iraq. He says "it is illegal and has no international consensus."
  • On Tuesday, clashes erupted between gunmen and Iraqi police in Baghdad, killing two policemen and two bystanders, Capt. Firas Keti said. South of Baghdad, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed two officers, and gunmen in southern Baghdad killed another, police said.
  • Gunmen southeast of Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, killed one police officer, Capt. Farhad Talabani said.
  • The U.S. military on Tuesday said two U.S. pilots died in a helicopter accident in western Baghdad. The accident was under investigation; the military said no hostile fire was involved.
  • A U.S. Army soldier assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, died of wounds received on Monday after coming under fire while conducting combat operations in the town of Khaldiyah, 55 miles west of Baghdad, the military said.
  • The site of the apparent mass-grave discovery, Karbala, is a Muslim holy city, site to a biannual Shiite pilgrimage that marks the death of the prophet Muhammad's grandson more than 1,000 years ago.

    Human rights organizations estimate that more than 300,000 people, mainly Kurds and Shiite Muslims, were killed and buried in mass graves during Saddam Hussein's 23-year rule, which ended when U.S.-led forces toppled his regime in April 2003.

    Meanwhile, Tuesday, Officials said insurgents were trying to deepen the political turmoil surrounding the contested vote. Preliminary figures have given a big lead to the religious Shiite bloc that controls the current interim government.

    The new violence came as three opposition groups threatened a wave of protests and civil disobedience if fraud charges are not properly investigated. The warning came from the secular Iraqi National List, headed by former Shiite Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and two Sunni Arab groups.

    More than 10,000 people, some carrying photos of Allawi, demonstrated Tuesday in favor of a government that would give more power to Sunni Arabs and secular Shiites. Marches chanted "No Sunnis, no Shiites, yes for national unity."

    "We're protesting to reject the elections fraud. We want to ask the government and the elections commission: 'Where did our votes go? Who stole them?"' said Abdul Hamid Abdul Razzaq, a 45-year-old barber who attended the massive protest.

    A similar protest in Baqouba ended with arrests. Police rounded up several people — most of them high school students — and took them into custody, Donelan reports.

    Iraq's Electoral Commission said Monday that final results for the 275-seat parliament could be released in about a week.

    Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions are demanding that an international body review more than 1,500 complaints, warning they may boycott the new legislature. They also want new elections in some provinces, including Baghdad. The United Nations has rejected an outside review.

    "We will resort to peaceful options, including protests, civil disobedience and a boycott of the political process until our demands are met," said Hassan Zaidan al-Lahaibi of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Front for National Dialogue. He spoke in neighboring Jordan, where representatives of the groups have met in recent days.

    The election commission considers 35 of the complaints serious enough to change some local results. But Farid Ayar, a commission official, said there was no reason to cancel the entire election.

    He also said preliminary results from early votes by soldiers, hospital patients, prisoners and overseas Iraqis showed a coalition of Kurdish parties and the main Shiite religious bloc each taking about a third. Those nearly 500,000 votes were not expected to alter overall results significantly.

    Preliminary results previously released gave the United Iraqi Alliance, the religious Shiite coalition dominating the current government, a big lead — but one unlikely to allow it to govern without forming a coalition with other groups.

    Alliance leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim traveled to the northern Kurdish city of Irbil on Tuesday to discuss the formation of a governing coalition with Jalal Talabani, Iraq's Kurdish president, and Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region.

    Al-Hakim's secretary Haitham al-Husseini said there would also be negotiations with Sunni Arabs. Al-Husseini said the Alliance has proposed distributing the top six Cabinet positions, the three-member presidency council and top three parliament slots among the political blocs.

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