Investigators in Iraq have begun exhuming bodies from a mass grave in the northern part of the country, seeking evidence they hope will help in a future trial of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Investigators say nine trenches located in a dry riverbed near the village of Hatra contain at least 300 bodies, possibly thousands, including children.

The victims are believed to be Iraqi Kurds killed during Saddam's crackdown on the minority community in 1987-88.

Iraq's Human Rights Ministry has identified 40 possible mass grave sites throughout the country.

Internationals organizations estimate more than 300,000 people were killed during Saddam's 24-year rule. He is expected to stand trial for crimes against humanity and other offenses.