Mon, Nov 19, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Dozens of dead exhumed from mass grave in Iraq

MISSING In a country where 123 journalists have been reported dead since the war began, a satellite television station said one of its reporters disappeared on Friday

AP , BAGHDAD

US soldiers with the 101st Airborne rest after conducting a house-to-house search in the village of al-Awsat, south of Baghdad, Iraq, on Friday.

PHOTO: AFP

Remains of possibly dozens of people believed to have been slain in sectarian violence were unearthed from a mass grave in a former al-Qaeda stronghold in southern Baghdad -- the third such find in Iraq this month.

Also on Saturday, an Iraqi television station reported one of its reporters had been kidnapped -- the latest in a grim series of attacks that has made Iraq among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists.

The badly decomposed remains were found in Baghdad's mostly Sunni Dora neighborhood by Sunnis who have turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq, police said. They were discovered in an area overlooking the main highway leading to Shiite shrine cities in the south.

Sunni extremists would often waylay travelers along that road, kidnapping and killing Shiites.

The remains were placed in black plastic bags and transferred to a Shiite mosque in Dora, according to a police officer at the mosque.

A photographer at the Kazimain mosque counted 33 plastic bags, and police said each bag held the remains of one victim.

But the remains were so badly decomposed that it was impossible to verify the number.

Some of the bags were opened, revealing body parts, bones and scraps of clothing. One of the bags contained a prosthetic leg.

Relatives of people who had been missing in the area crowded into a courtyard outside the mosque, where the remains were laid out. But none of the remains had been identified by late on Saturday. A woman in a black abaya wept as the bags were opened.

Earlier this month, US and Iraqi officials said they found 29 bodies near Lake Tharthar north of Baghdad in the former al-Qaeda stronghold of Anbar Province. The next day, another 17 victims were discovered in a brushy area west of Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad.

Officials said they believed the bodies were those of people who had been seized at fake checkpoints and murdered because of their sectarian affiliation.

Last Tuesday, the International Red Cross said at least 375,000 people were missing in Iraq, many of them victims of Sunni and Shiite extremists who kidnapped and murdered members of the rival Islamic sect.

The wave of sectarian slaughter has receded somewhat in recent months as more and more Sunnis have turned against al-Qaeda and other extremist groups and as Shiite militias have toned down their operations, perhaps fearing a backlash in the Shiite community.

The presence of more US soldiers in the streets of the capital since the troop buildup this year has also discouraged abuses by sectarian death squads.

On Saturday, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh attributed some of the improvements to Iran, saying that Iranians "showing more restraint in sending people and weapons to destabilize Iraq."

Nevertheless, kidnappings and killings are continuing.

The satellite television station al-Baghdadiyah said that one of its reporters, 28-year-old Muntadhar al-Zaidi, disappeared on Friday. A colleague phoned al-Zaidi around noon on Friday, and a stranger answered his cellphone with the words "Forget Muntadhar," according to an editor at the station. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for his own safety.

"This is the act of gangs, because all of Muntadhar's reports are moderate and unbiased," the editor said by telephone.

Al-Baghdadiyah broadcasts from Cairo, Egypt, and is often critical of the Iraqi government and the US military presence here. The station, perceived as pro-Sunni, has already lost two reporters to the violence.

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