Thirty bodies found in mass graves near Baghdad

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BAGHDAD, Nov 6 (Reuters) Iraqi soldiers uncovered two mass graves containing at least 30 bodies of men and women in a former al Qaeda stronghold northwest of Baghdad, the Iraqi and US military said today.

The graves were uncovered on Saturday during a joint operation by US and Iraqi forces against al Qaeda in Iraq cells operating in the Lake Tharthar region, about 80 km northwest of the capital.

An Iraqi army lieutenant-colonel, who asked not to be named, said several large holes dug by mechanical excavators and left uncovered had been found in a remote area about 25 km (15 miles) north of the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi.

''We found in one of them 22 partially decomposed corpses,'' he said.

He said the skeletal remains of another eight people were found in another hole nearby. Male and female clothing as well as two Iraqi army identification badges were found.

Winter and summer clothing had been found, indicating that bodies in the graves had been killed at different times. The graves were in an area once known to be used by al Qaeda.

''It is a very difficult, remote area. No one used this area but al Qaeda people,'' the Iraqi colonel said.

The US military issued a statement which said 22 bodies had been found in one grave.

''The Iraqi Army and Provincial Security Forces are investigating the mass grave to determine the identities of the deceased and the causes of death for notification of their families,'' the US statement said.

Lake Tharthar straddles Salahuddin and Anbar provinces.

Anbar was once the most dangerous province in Iraq before tribal sheiks, tired of al Qaeda's indiscriminate killings, began forming tribal police units with the US military last year to drive out the Sunni Islamist group.

Anbar is now relatively peaceful after the neighbourhood police units forced al Qaeda fighters into nearby areas, including northwestern Salahuddin.

Mass graves are found relatively regularly in Iraq, often containing the bodies of large groups kidnapped and killed by al Qaeda and other insurgent groups and militias, or the victims of mass executions carried out under Saddam Hussein.

Reuters SS GC1654

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