Baghdad, May 4 (Reuters): Iraqis dug corpses from a mass grave today and police reappeared in Baghdad, as Iraq grappled with the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s rule and the lawless aftermath of the US-led invasion that ended it.
President George W. Bush said it was only a matter of time before US troops find the weapons of mass destruction whose alleged existence he used to justify the war on Iraq.
Grislier evidence of the nature of Saddam’s iron-fisted policies emerged at a farmland site near the Shia holy city of Najaf, where Iraqis clawed through earth to uncover a score more bodies, some with blindfolds and hands tied, of men and women apparently executed during a 1991 Shia uprising.
Bullet casings, combs, coins, watches lay among them. Some had identity cards in their rotting clothes. Yellow twine coated with a coppery crust, possibly blood, had bound their wrists.
“This is one, this is one, this is one,” said an Iraqi man who helped dig, pointing out bones and clothes at the site about 20 km north of Najaf, which lies south of Baghdad.
Officials helping in the excavation said 47 corpses had been dug up.
Iraqis uncovered another mass grave yesterday near the ancient city of Babylon, digging up dozens of bones wrapped in stained blankets and skulls with rectangles cut out of the back.
“Some of the skulls appear to have been cut open, maybe they were experimenting with the prisoners. Some were executed, you can see bullet holes,” said US Lieutenant David Lewis.
Tens of thousands of Shias and Kurds are thought to have been killed when Saddam’s forces crushed revolts after US-led forces drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. Bush’s father, then president, had encouraged Iraqis to rise against Saddam, but did nothing to help them when they did so.
With the former Iraqi president now overthrown, US and British invasion forces are wrestling with the mayhem arising from the collapse of his army and government.
Hundreds of unarmed Iraqi police returned to Baghdad streets today under the supervision of US forces.
As a reminder of the mammoth task they face, looters also made a comeback, making forays into a presidential palace to scavenge whatever was left from earlier bouts of looting.
Thieving and lawlessness erupted in Baghdad on April 9, the day US troops toppled Saddam. Security in the volatile city of five million has improved since then, but is far from complete.
Traffic police were back in their familiar uniforms of blue trousers and white shirts today, directing traffic at clogged junctions and patrolling in blue-and-white police cars. “Today is the first day for trying to get the police back to re-establish law and order in the streets,” Phillip Hall, a US administration officer, said at the Police Academy.
Despite the effort, a Reuters photographer saw armed looters emerge from Saddam’s Republican Palace in central Baghdad, taking lamps, paintings and even a badly damaged vintage car.
A 10-nation stabilisation force led by the US, Britain and Poland plans to deploy in Iraq by the end of May, but many Iraqis criticise US troops for failing to do more to quell disorder and restore basic services like water and power.