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Correspondent Monday, 22 September, 2003, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Saddam's mass graves
The street scene of the mass grave in Al Hayaniya - Basra
Kurds were buried dead and alive under the traffic island in Basra
John Sweeney


As coalition forces approach Baghdad, BBC Correspondent's John Sweeney reveals even more gruesome evidence of Saddam's tyrannical regime.

You could not get two more different witnesses to the true nature of Saddam's regime.

A former Iraqi colonel and a tomb-raider.

Both men have revealed details of two separate mass graves.

They insist these graves conceal bodies of defenceless civilians murdered by Saddam's forces.

The colonel - anonymous for security reasons - defected from Iraq in early 2003. His body is scarred by horrific torture.

The tomb-raider tells of the mass graves
The tomb-raider drew a map of a mass grave
He says he saw army bulldozers bury people - dead and alive - in a pit dug in a long traffic island in Al Hayaniya, a suburb of Basra.

This mass burial took place in 1991, when the mainly Shia people of Basra staged an uprising against Saddam's regime in the wake of the American "100 hours to free Kuwait".

The colonel said: "Basra was assigned to Ali Hassan Al-Majid" - Saddam's cousin, known as "Chemical Ali".

Bulldozed bodies

They brought some people alive and pushed them into the hole and buried them alive

A former Iraqi colonel
"He didn't try to interrogate people. He would round up 20 or 30 people and murder them on the spot. He enjoyed killing people.

He recalled what happened in a poison gas attack against a Kurdish village: "They removed the corpses and dug a big hole and buried them in it.

"Then they brought some people alive and pushed them into the hole and buried them alive using army bulldozers.

"If they thought someone was in the uprising, they would bring the mother over and kill her and bury her here."

The colonel drew a precise map of the mass grave location.

He indicated it was on the traffic island in Al Hayaniya, on the road towards Sa'ad square in Basra.

Criticism is treason

Saddam Hussein
Saddam appears on almost every street corner
The tomb-raider and his friends would make a bit of money from robbing Sumerian archaeological sites near the city of Ur, digging for gold bracelets and ancient artefacts.

They found a modern grave, the corpses still with skin, hair and shreds of Arabic dress.

He said: "The skulls had holes in the back of the head, as if they had been shot."

He too drew the precise area of a mass grave.

He estimated between 150 and 250 bodies had been buried there.

He believed the dead were kinsmen Marsh Arabs who had been killed after the failed uprising in 1991.

He mourned Saddam's destruction of his home, saying: "The process of draining the marshes started in 1994, until they disappeared completely by the end of the 90s.

"No-one can say a word against the regime in Iraq. Any criticism is interpreted as treason by the regime and therefore no-one can say a word."

Cried till she died

But why don't people tell foreign journalists inside Iraq about mass graves, torture or talk to the UN weapons inspectors?

The colonel said Saddam's secret police used the threat of torture of family members to keep mouths shut.

He said he was tortured after his parents-in-law fled the country, his flesh scarred for life and his toenails ripped out.

Marsh Arab village before draining
Marsh Arabs' lives were devastated by the end of the 90s.
But, far worse for him to bear, was his pregnant wife being so badly beaten up that she lost her unborn baby.

The colonel was interrogated at the Al-Hakimiya underground prison in Baghdad.

He described the evil place: "Everything is dark red. It's very intimidating and affects you both psychologically and physically.

"All I could hear was people crying for help and begging for mercy but no-one did anything to help them.

"The crying was disturbing at first but you soon get used to it.

"What was very disturbing was the cries of a woman, even though it was a male prison. She cried until she died.

"The screaming was deafening. Are you surprised that people are frightened to talk to the inspectors?"



Producers: Elizabeth Ceirog Jones and Ewa Ewart
Reporter: John Sweeney
Executive Producers: Karen O'Connor
Deputy Editor: David Belton
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey

See also:

17 Oct 02 | Country profiles
28 Jan 03 | Middle East
13 Jan 03 | Media reports
13 Jan 03 | Middle East
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