The man in charge of the U.S.-led effort to rebuild Iraq toured a mass grave Thursday, where hundreds of Iraqis were executed in an uprising against the Iraqi regime following the 1991 Gulf war.
One of the most painful sites in Iraq is south of Baghdad where the remains of hundreds of mostly Shiite Muslims, executed by Saddam Hussein's regime, have been unearthed from a mass grave.
On Thursday, the head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, Paul Bremmer, toured the site.
Mr. Bremmer was briefed by an Iraqi doctor who has been helping to excavate the gravesite, located in a town called Hilla.
"We find victims here from Hilla and also from cities surrounding Hilla from Basra even," he said. "We found 26 Egyptian people even."
There are hundreds of bones wrapped in white cloth, and plastic bags contain clothing, shoes and watches. Some had identification papers.
Mr. Bremmer said he can only imagine what must have taken place. Some of the victims had their hands tied behind their backs. Others were found with bags over their heads. Entire families were discovered.
Mr. Bremmer said that while the top priority remains finding weapons of mass destruction, mass graves provide enough reason to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein.
"There is no question that this was a regime that deserves to be changed and I'm glad we changed it," said Mr. Bremmer. "It does not end our search for weapons of mass destruction. We gave top priority to that and we are. There are American and coalition forces all over the country looking for those sites and I'm confident, in time, that we will find them but mass graves bring home, in a way that is very dramatic, how truly bad this regime was."
Mr. Bremmer promised those responsible for the executions would be brought to justice and said the owner of the land where the grave was discovered is in U.S. custody and could face prosecution.
As for the establishment of an interim Iraqi government, Mr. Bremmer said he continues to hold talks with Iraqi community leaders. He said such a government will be formed in the coming months, but he did not give a specific date.
Earlier Thursday, U.S. military officials in Baghdad said that while improvements are being made throughout the capital regarding the water supply, medical facilities, schools, electricity and fuel, the lack of police remains a severe problem. They also said Baghdad's entire sewage system, while functional, needs to be completely rebuilt.
At night, sporadic gunfire can still be heard in parts of Baghdad and some looting continues despite increased patrols by U.S. military forces.