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Several other women were with her, and picked up pieces of paper scattered in the orchard in the hope of finding something, anything that would give a clue if their loved ones would be found beneath the dry earth.

The orchard, one volunteer said, had belonged to a Shi’ite farmer. Al Qaeda requisitioned it by killing him and driving his family away.

“They’re beat. Just look at their faces,” Capt. Vince Morris, who had helped organize the search and was present to document the finds, said of the volunteers. “I don’t think they’ll do this much longer today.”

Digging is expected to continue for weeks. It’s spring in Iraq and time to clean the fields. And the discarded clothing found nearby — including children’s clothing — held the promise of more horror to come.