- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 16 (UPI) — We are standing in the hot sun this Wednesday in a graveyard, actually a secret graveyard walled off from the vast acres of the Islamic Karch cemetery, 6 miles southwest of Baghdad, with Abdul Hadi and Salim Abid.

There are no gravestones here, no statues, simply row upon row of small aging yellow markers with numbers on them: 307, 992, 468. The numbers make no rhyme or reason and Hadi and Abid are waiting for a man who knows what is below these markers.

This is one of a score of burial places in and around Baghdad used by Saddam Hussein's secret police force to bury its victims. Both Hadi and Abed lost relatives nearly two decades ago, two of thousands who under Saddam simply disappeared. Hadi's brother was taken on his wedding night in 1980 for what the translator said was "praying too much," but might have been for being an Islamic fundamentalist in Saddam's secular Iraq. Abed's brother-in-law went missing in 1983 for crimes even more vague and confused. The missing man's mother, now 65, had long lost hope of knowing his fate.

Now, under the watchful eye of a pack of wild, growling graveyard dogs that had been feeding here, they wait for a man to tell them which grave markers might be their relatives. Even learning this much was a stroke of luck, one of those things that are happening in this topsy-turvy city.

Four days after the end of the war, a man connected with the secret police that lives in their neighborhood brought them files taken from police headquarters. They said it was a gesture of someone who wanted to avoid revenge. The files contain all kinds of family records — interrogation reports by investigators and reports on how many family members could be turned into secret police informers.

All this was laid out in neat Arabic handwriting on tissue-like paper inside a cheap binder. The picture of the family's elder male member was pinned to the sheet. But in it also were execution notices and notices that the body had been brought here for burial.

Other nearby graves are empty; families have already come and recovered the remains of their loved ones. The area is strewn with human bones and bits of clothing as well.

So we wait for the man who has the map of this ugly place, but finally after an hour he doesn't come and they and several other families go home to try and locate him.

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Col. Ehssan Kahtan of the Baghdad police, a man you would not like to be interrogated by, stands in front of his former police station with a half dozen other police officers of the Saddam regime. They are here, they say, to clean up and protect the police precinct. It is too late to protect it. Every window is smashed, files are strewn around and one room has been completely burned.

"What was there?" we asked the colonel.

"Files of criminals," he said. "Everything we knew about them."

These men do not talk about the crimes of Saddam; instead, they tell a group of reporters that U.S. Marines roughed them up while looking for $36 million in missing Saddam money.

"They put my head in the ground and stepped on it," one said.

Another policeman said Marines put pistols to his head and threatened to shoot.

"Did the Marines actually shoot anyone?" we ask.

"No."

Later they were joking with four young Marines posted outside the station.

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The traffic in the city is totally out of control — street after street blocked by total gridlock. There are no streetlights, few police officers, and no motorists with patience. There is an abundance, however, of aging, rusting Volkswagen Passats made in Brazil. They came from the Iran-Iraq war when Saddam awarded one to any family whose first-born son died in the fighting. As the deaths mounted, the regime ended the program but it left Baghdad awash in 1980s Passats.

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Southeast of the city, in the direction of Karbala, a herd of dairy cows were caught in the crossfire of a firefight, slaughtered where they stood. For days they lay in the open but finally this week, coalition forces began to bulldoze them under. Nevertheless, raw sewage and often decomposed human bodies can be seen in many areas and doctors say the health risks from sewage are increasing. There are unconfirmed reports of cholera outbreaks in the southern suburbs of the city. Coalition forces are checking.

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