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Mass Grave Discovered Near Mosul Could Contain Hundreds of Bodies

The U.S. military says it has discovered a mass grave near Mosul, in northern Iraq, which may contain as many as 400 bodies. The remains are believed to be those of Kurdish civilians killed during the Saddam Hussein regime.

U.S. soldiers have begun excavating a mass grave discovered at the edge of a dry riverbed in the north of Iraq.

Military specialists say they have already exhumed the remains of 25 women and children, found buried some three meters below ground. The corpses all had what appeared to be bullet holes in their skulls.

Local residents said the bodies are those of Kurdish civilians executed under the former government, which practiced a policy of ethnic cleansing against Iraq's Kurdish minority.

Based on local accounts and the size of the site, military officials say the grave could contain 200 to 400 bodies.

U.S. forces in Baghdad, meanwhile, discovered and diffused a bomb Friday morning found planted on a major expressway leading to Baghdad International Airport.

U.S. Sergeant James Hansen, guarding the site while explosives experts diffused the bomb, says the device was potent enough to blow up armored vehicles.

"It would knock out a tank, that's how big it was. … They said it was a remote-detonated bomb," he said.

The same stretch of road has been the site of previous attacks against U.S. military vehicles, including one earlier this week which killed one soldier.

The attempted bombing comes as U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz came to Iraq on an unscheduled visited to gage reconstruction efforts in the country.

Military officials would not comment on Mr. Wolfowitz's itinerary, but he is expected to speak with Iraq's top civilian administrator Paul Bremer.

In other news, Iraqi Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali Sistanni ordered noon prayer services canceled throughout Iraq Friday, offering no explanation for the move. The sole exception was made for the Kufa Mosque in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

Friday prayers usually include a sermon by a mosque leader, and many such sermons recently have been sharply critical of coalition forces in Iraq.