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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 April, 2003, 22:46 GMT 23:46 UK
'These are all executions'
Skulls look out from plastic bags at an abandoned Iraqi military base on the outskirts of the town of al-Zubayr, southern Iraq
Piles of bones lie in plastic bags
Hundreds of bundles of bone in strips of military uniform have been found by British soldiers at an abandoned Iraqi military base on the outskirts of the town of al-Zubayr.

Faded black-and-white photographs show corpses mutilated beyond recognition, their faces burned and swollen.

Most of the victims appear to have been executed by gunshots to the head.

Skulls, their teeth broken and missing, look out from plastic bags in unsealed hardboard coffins stacked five deep in a warehouse.

Some of the bags have split open, spilling bones and scraps of clothing onto the dirt floor.

Outside, in a courtyard, a brick wall riddled with bullets stands behind a foot-high tiled platform, with a drainage ditch running in between.

A brick wall is riddled with bullets at an abandoned Iraqi military base on the outskirts of the town of al-Zubayr, southern Iraq
The soldiers think this bullet-riddled spot was a "shooting gallery"

It looks like "a purpose-built shooting gallery" says one British soldier.

Next to the courtyard, a building contains what look like cells with metal hooks hanging from racks on the ceiling - and a picture of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Some of the paperwork suggests the "makeshift morgue" was operating in 1985.

Each coffin carries an Arabic inscription and the bags have been scrawled on with marker pens.

The first British soldier into the warehouse, Captain Jack Kemp, of the 3rd Regiment of the Royal Horse Artillery, said it contained more than 200 bags filled with "very old" human remains.

Coffins are stacked five deep at an abandoned Iraqi military base on the outskirts of the town of al-Zubayr, southern Iraq
Coffins are stacked five deep
"It is certainly not from the recent conflict but it could be from the one before," the 40-year-old from Fraddam, near Newquay, Cornwall, added.

"We have placed it out of bounds to all personnel and will treat it as a mass grave.

"It's part of being at war - just another thing you have to deal with and get on with it.

"As the war goes on you expect to see everything."

A younger soldier studying the book of photographs said: "These are all executions. You can see the bullets - shots to the head."

Photos show mutilated corpses  at an abandoned Iraqi military base on the outskirts of the town of al-Zubayr, southern Iraq
Gruesome catalogues show mutilated corpses
The BBC's Ben Brown said local people had told him the remains were those of Iraqi soldiers killed in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, recently sent back from Iran.

But other reporters said items in the base, such as the cells and the "shooting gallery", suggested a far more sinister history.

There was also evidence that soldiers had lived at the base until recently, with new army shirts found still in their bags.

Some of the British soldiers believe they may have chanced upon a death camp.

"Isn't it important for Muslims to be properly buried?" one said. "It's like a deliberate disrespect.

"Whoever these people were, they weren't very important to the people who did this."




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