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Last Updated: Monday, 12 May, 2003, 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK
Mass grave found near Basra
Man searches a grave site near Babylon, Iraq
Mass graves are being found across Iraq

A new mass grave has been unearthed in Iraq, near the southern city of Basra.

The remains of 126 bodies have been dug out since Sunday, officials at a mosque in the city told the BBC.

This would make it one of the largest graves found so far in the south of Iraq, the BBC's Kate Clark reports from Basra.

Three of the bodies have been identified as those of Shia Muslims executed in 1999 for their support of an assassinated senior cleric, Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr.

Only about a dozen bodies have so far been identified but the grave does appear to be recent and not a leftover from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, our correspondent says.

They were forced to kneel and then they were shot in the head
Sayed Haider al-Hussein
mosque official

The coffins of the dead have been left open in the faint hope that relatives might recognise the remains.

Many of the bodies have their hands tied and blindfolds still wrapped around the skulls.

The shallow grave is located along a desolate stretch of road which runs towards the city of Nasiriya and was brought to the mosque's attention last week.

'Anger and pain'

The first 32 coffins removed were lined up in Basra's al-Jumhuriya Grand Mosque so that relatives could search through them for their loved ones.

"I feel a lot of anger and pain. Saddam has blood on his hands," mosque official Sayed Haider al-Hussein told the Associated Press.

"They were killed in a very ugly way. Their hands were tied, feet tied, eyes blindfolded. They were forced to kneel and then they were shot in the head."

Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr is honoured as a martyr by millions of Shia Iraqis who say he was executed for standing up to Saddam Hussein.

The 1999 Shia revolt followed one in 1991 at the end of the first Gulf War, which was also brutally repressed.

Other mass graves have been found around Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam with 40 bodies reported in a grave at Abul Khasib, also in the south, last week.

Also this month, 72 bodies were removed from a mass grave near the Shia holy city of Najaf.

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