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Iraqis uncover thousands in mass graves

U.S. commander: Troops to crack down on looters

An Iraqi woman on Wednesday mourns at the site of mass graves found in Mahawil. Some 1,500 bodies have been uncovered there so far.
An Iraqi woman on Wednesday mourns at the site of mass graves found in Mahawil. Some 1,500 bodies have been uncovered there so far.

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Families dig through mass graves to find remains of loved ones in Mawahil, Iraq
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U.S. Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, coalition commander, and Maj. Gen. Buford Blout, 3rd Infantry Division commander

McKiernan: Mass grave sites being discovered in Iraq are high on the U.S. military's list for security arrangements.

Blount: Looters in Iraq are not to be shot by troops unless soldiers' lives are endangered.

McKiernan: A policy is being developed with U.S. civil administrator L. Paul Bremer to establish rules for weapons ownership in Iraq.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

MAHAWIL, Iraq (CNN) -- The head of an Iraqi forensic team said Wednesday he expects to find as many as 15,000 bodies buried at mass graves about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Baghdad.

Hundreds of relatives of missing Iraqis gathered at the site in Mahawil, seeking to find out the fate of their loved ones.

The forensic team has uncovered 1,500 bodies so far, identifying only a fraction of them. (Gallery: Images from Mahawil, On the Scene: Jane Arraf)

The bodies are mostly of Iraqi Shiites who died in an uprising against Saddam Hussein following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, according to Human Rights Watch spokesman Peter Bouckaert and local officials.

Bouckaert said the crude means of uncovering the bodies -- with a bulldozer -- was destroying evidence from the burials.

He cited the example of an Iraqi identity document, with its number still intact, blowing away in the wind.

"This little piece of information could actually have led a family to recover the skeleton of their relative, but because it's blown away from this pile -- as we see stuff blowing around all over the place -- that family probably won't have the answer they seek here today," he said. (Human rights groups' concerns)

Touring the site Wednesday, Ahmad Chalabi, head of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, said the mass grave was evidence supporting the U.S.-led military action to remove Saddam from power.

Tougher looting punishment

U.S. troops are "aggressively targeting looters" in Iraq in an effort to improve security, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq said Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. David McKiernan said people arrested for looting will be held for 20 days on their first offense. They had been held for 48 hours in the past.

He said 200 Iraqis have been arrested in the past two days and are being held by the 3rd Infantry Division.

The U.S. military continues to increase the number of soldiers, military police and Iraqi police on patrol, McKiernan said, adding that he plans to double the number of military police in Baghdad by the first week of June.

U.S. officials denied a report Wednesday in The New York Times that troops were going to be authorized to shoot looters on sight.

Quoting unnamed American officials, the newspaper reported that L. Paul Bremer, the new U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, authorized "a change in the rules of engagement within a few days to get the situation under control."

An official told the newspaper, "They are going to start shooting a few looters so that the word gets around" that assaults on property, the hijacking of automobiles and violent crimes will be dealt with using deadly force.

Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said U.S. troops have always had the option of shooting back if they were fire upon by looters or if they were threatened by an armed looter, but he said that troops "aren't going to shoot children picking up a piece of wood out of a factory and carrying it away or stealing a bag of cement from a construction site."

Bremer told reporters Wednesday that "the existing rules of engagement have not been changed, to my knowledge."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday said U.S. troops will begin "using muscle" to capture or kill looters and other criminals who are disrupting security in Baghdad. (Full story)

Back to the U.N.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived Wednesday in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials about postwar Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived Wednesday in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials about postwar Iraq.

The U.N. Security Council held closed-door sessions Wednesday to discuss a draft resolution that would lift almost all sanctions against Iraq and put the country under U.S. and British control for at least a year.

Under the resolution -- introduced Friday by the United States, Great Britain and Spain -- Iraq's oil revenue would be placed in a fund to be "dispersed at the direction of" the United States and Britain "until such time as a new Iraqi government is properly constituted and capable of discharging its responsibilities."

Representatives of the U.N. secretary-general, International Monetary Fund and World Bank would form the Iraqi Assistance Fund's international advisory board and choose independent public accountants to audit it.

The draft resolution also calls for the United Nations to play a "vital role" in providing humanitarian relief, supporting reconstruction and helping the formation of an Iraqi interim authority.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell began meeting Wednesday with Russian officials in Moscow to discuss terrorism and reconstruction in Iraq. (Full story)

Powell met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and he was expected to seek Russia's help in rebuilding Iraq now that major combat has ended.

Russia has expressed some concerns about lifting the sanctions.

Other developments

• Rumsfeld labeled as "nonsense" news reports that retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner was being replaced because the reconstruction effort in Iraq was not meeting expectations. He told a Senate subcommittee that looting and lawlessness continues in some areas, adding most of Iraq -- two-thirds to three-fourths -- is "stable" but not "secure."

• U.S. troops in Baghdad may have recovered most of the $1 billion in cash believed to have been heisted by Qusay Hussein from Iraq's Central Bank, a top U.S. Treasury Department official said Wednesday. David Aufhauser, general counsel to the Treasury Department, told members of a House Financial Services subcommittee that the soldiers found 191 boxes containing $850 million in U.S. dollars and $100 million in euros. But he cautioned that it needs to be determined if the cash is real or counterfeit

• A U.S. Marine with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force died Tuesday afternoon near Hillah, Iraq, when he became trapped in a munitions bunker that caught fire and exploded, a Central Command statement said Wednesday. The Marine's name has been withheld pending notification of his next of kin.

• U.S. defense officials said that Baath Party regional militia commander Fadil Muhammad Gharib was captured several days ago and is in U.S. custody in Iraq. Gharib, Baath Party chairman for the Babil District, is also known as Gharib Fazel Al-Mashaikh and is listed as the three of hearts, or No. 28, on Central Command's most-wanted list of Iraqis. Former Culture Minister Hamad Yussef Hamadiis, who was not on the list, also was taken into custody. (Interactive: Iraq most-wanted card deck)

CNN Producer Alina Gracheva and CNN Correspondent Jane Arraf contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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