KHAN AL-RUBEA, Iraq – With shovels and their bare hands, Iraqis on Sunday excavated a mass grave filled with the remains of dozens of people who witnesses said were executed after a 1991 Shiite uprising.
Fragments of watches, a blue woman's slipper, pieces of black cloaks worn by Iraqi women and bloody clothing were found at the gravesite about 13 miles northwest of Najaf, a holy city for Shiite Muslims (search). Bullet casings also were found near the graves.
About 25 bodies were dug up on Saturday, and 10 had been identified. About 20 more sets of remains were uncovered Sunday. It was unclear how many bodies were buried at the site, but several mounds were visible on the flat farmland -- hills that U.S. Marines in the area said could mark additional gravesites.
Some bodies had identification cards in their pockets.
"I'm looking for my own relatives," said Jawad Shaker, who came to the site on Sunday. Another person said he was looking for his nephew who disappeared in 1991.
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (search), a Shiite group, was directing the excavation and said it was preparing a special section of a cemetery for what it called the "martyrs"' of 1991.
Tens of thousands of people were killed after Iraq's Shiite majority rose up after the 1991 Gulf War and seized control of most of the southern part of the country. Shiites, a minority in the Islamic world, make up 60 percent of Iraq's Muslims and were ruled for a generation by Saddam Hussein's overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Baath Party (search).
Iraqi forces used helicopter gunships and tanks to defeat the lightly armed rebels. Thousands of people are believed to have been executed after the failed revolt.
On Sunday, five people were digging at the site -- some with shovels, others with their hands. Farmers in the area said they had known about the site for years but were scared to talk about it while Saddam was still in power.
One farmer said he saw people blindfolded and shot in the back of the head after the uprising. He refused to give his name.
"Everybody knew and could see, but they kept quiet," said Kamel al-Tamini, another farmer living in the area. "We were told to stay away from this area, not to go near it, that it was a security zone."
A few miles away, U.S. Marines guarded another site where two bodies and four bullet casing were found. A red keffiyah could be seen wrapped around the eyes of one of the skulls.
"This is the tip of the iceberg in this country," said Marine Capt. Mike Urena. "I am sure you will find more."
About 50 miles northeast, in a field on the outskirts of the ancient city of Babylon, residents kept vigil Sunday at a suspected mass grave they linked to Saddam Hussein's government.
Locals said government operatives used to arrive at night, dig holes and bury bodies in the field mixed with large amounts of trash. The area was off-limits under Saddam's regime, they said.
On Sunday, about 25 skulls -- many arranged on blankets -- sat in the sun as Iraqis mourned and tried to identify loved ones. About half of the skulls were cut open meticulously with hacksaws in the same way.
"This is our land, and the Iraqi government took it," said one man who identified himself only as the "father of Adnan." He and others said the government was apparently trying to conceal the bodies by mixing them with trash.
Residents said the U.S. military visited the site Saturday and told people to stop digging. So on Sunday, women cried and men reminisced as they gazed at the bones at the field's edge.