SULEIMANIYAH, Iraq – Workers digging the foundation of a new hospital in this northern city discovered Wednesday a burial site that a regional human rights minister said could contain the remains of hundreds of people.
At least seven bodies were removed from the excavation in Suleimaniyah's suburb of Dabashin shortly after they were discovered. Officials said the bodies were believed to be of Kurds killed while fleeing Saddam Hussein's (search) army as it tried to crush an uprising following the 1991 Gulf War.
Speaking at the site of the dig, Salah Rashid, the regional Kurdish human rights minister, said "there are mass graves all over Kurdistan especially in areas that were under the control of the Iraqi government."
"This grave dates back to 1991 when Saddam's regime came to crush the Kurdish uprising," Rashid said. He predicted that at least 400 bodies would be found there.
Saadoun Saeed, a 60-year-old witness who said he lived in the area in 1991, said hundreds of people were buried at the site of the newly discovered grave, including his own brother.
Local police commander Maj. Gen. Rizgar Ali said that as construction workers were excavating the foundation for the project, human remains appeared, "so we called the witness (Saeed) and we began digging."
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 2003.
Saddam is expected to stand trial for crimes against humanity and other offenses next year, but no trail date has been set.