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BASRA, Iraq (AP) — Peering into a simple plywood coffin, Karima Musa Mohammed carefully looked over the remains inside — a ragged blindfold tied around the skull, feet bound by black cloth, faded gray pants, light gray shirt.

"No, not him. Not my son," she pronounced, then burst into tears.

For people streaming past 32 coffins laid out in Basra's al-Jumhuriya Grand Mosque on Monday, grief competed with anger as they searched for relatives who disappeared after a Shiite Muslim uprising in 1999.

The remains were dug up from a mass grave on the outskirts of Basra — one of many being unearthed around the country as Iraqis come to grips with the reality of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime.

Located along a desolate stretch of highway that runs toward Nasiriyah, the shallow grave contains as many as 150 bodies that residents began digging up on Sunday, said Sayed Haider al-Hussein, a mosque official.

The site was discovered after people with the former regime approached clerics, he said.

"We get new information about (mass graves) every day," al-Hussein said. "I feel a lot of anger and pain. Saddam has blood on his hands."

A Shiite Muslim stronghold, Basra was punished during Saddam's era for fostering insurgencies against his Sunni-dominated rule. Just after the Gulf War in 1991, Shiite rebels rose in protest, only to be crushed by military forces. Thousands were believed to have been killed after the failed revolt.

In March 1999 came a second uprising in Basra, this one following the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric. During this wave, thousands more people were arrested, imprisoned and in some cases executed by the ruling Baath Party.

In the month since Saddam's regime was ousted, information found in secret police files and documents, as well as tips from eyewitnesses, have shed light on Saddam's methods of controlling and terrorizing people.

Along with the tales of torture and imprisonment came reports about mass graves. The country is dotted with anonymous graves, human rights groups contend. Other mass graves have been found in or near Najaf, Karbala, and Baghdad.

The grave site found Sunday contained bodies of those captured after the 1999 uprising, al-Hussein said.

"They were killed in a very ugly way. Hands tied, feet tied, eyes blindfolded. They were forced to kneel and then they were shot in the head," he said.

The skeletal remains on display Monday showed signs of physical trauma. Some still had faded bandages tied around the eye sockets and black cloth binding the feet. Several skulls had large holes on one side or were crushed in the back.

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In each open wooden coffin, the bones were carefully wrapped in white cloth, surrounded by scraps of hair, bits of teeth and bones. The visible evidence of their demise drove scores of black-clad women to wailing and men to weep.

"You see this?" a red-eyed Hassan Faleh Mohsin, 56, demanded angrily. Mohsin had accompanied a friend who was looking for his son who disappeared off the streets of Basra in 1999. "This is the government of Saddam Hussein."

A piercing cry broke through the morning heat as one young man crumpled before an open box. Friends held up Mo'taz Jassim Al-Aibi, who said he recognized his brother Mohammed by his faded green sweat pants.

"We have had no word of him for four years — nothing," he said.

By midmorning, 13 bodies had been identified by their families. However, mosque officials said they expected more would be identified later. Bodies dug up at the site would continue to be brought to the mosque, al-Hussein said.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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