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Features: More graves found

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Richard Tomkins
Zahamm, Iraq (UPI) May 13, 2008
The number of human remains unearthed in an al-Qaida killing field northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province is nearing 70 with the discovery of more graves by villagers who had volunteered to search an abandoned pomegranate orchard.

The remains of seven people -- all appeared to have been executed late last year -- were found in two graves in the orchard on the outskirts of Zahamm village on Sunday. One contained three bodies, the other four.

Like decomposing bodies or skeletal remains found earlier, the victims showed signs of having been bound and then shot in the head.

Nine remains were found on Wednesday in the orchard.

"We'll continue digging over the next few weeks or until they want to stop," said Capt. Vince Morris, commander of Iron Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.

Morris, together with an American reporter and sheik from the village of Taiyah, were directed to the killing field late last month by a man who said he had escaped in August from a "jail" al-Qaida had established in the orchard. One body was found on the first visit; village volunteers discovered and exhumed at least 51 more during three separate, two-hour excavations.

"When they first came into the area they said they were mujahedin fighting the occupation forces. But later they started forcing people from their homes and taking money. People who worked for the Iraq army or the Iraqi police were punished," said Sheik Abbas Hussein Khalaf, the leader of Taiyah.

"Some people were shot in front of the people in the street, others were kidnapped, killed and put in the mass graves" for violating al-Qaida rules, for refusing to join or help the organization or because they were suspected of helping or supporting the Iraqi government.

One of them was a cousin, the sheik said, the brother of the man who had escaped and told U.S. troops about the graves.

Zahamm is located about 3 miles from Himbus, a farming town of about 10,000 people in Diyala province's "bread basket." Al-Qaida, which declared an Islamic State of Iraq in 2006 and centered it in Diyala province, used the Himbus area for training and for storing weapons and other supplies until U.S. forces drove them out this past January.

Each of the 10 closest villages to Himbus has contributed 10 volunteers on average per dig. The exhumations, wrapping of the remains and transporting them to a cemetery for proper burial lasts only two or three hours per day because of the shock of the experience on the workers and the need for the volunteers to tend their own farms and orchards.

Meeting last week, village representatives agreed to two excavation sessions each week, on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The orchard al-Qaida was said to have used for a jail, torture chamber and execution burial ground was originally owned by a Shiite, Abbas said. Al-Qaida acquired it by killing the owner, whose family then fled.

In addition to the orchard where digging is taking place are two other fields villagers suspect may contain the remains of people the group executed.

(This story was originally reported in April.)

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Feature: Iraq's killing fields
Zahamm, Iraq (UPI) May 13, 2008
Farmers digging in part of an abandoned pomegranate orchard in the Diyala provincial village of Zahamm have uncovered the graves of more than 50 people murdered by al-Qaida-Iraq during their two-year reign of terror in the area.

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