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Families discover Hussein's murder by numbers

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The tears now falling in the Abu Ghraib cemetery can't be counted. But the graves can be: 993 of them, victims of Saddam Hussein, marked only by yellow and black metal plates with crudely-painted numbers.

These were forgotten victims, most of them Shiite Muslims that their families say "prayed too much" or who opposed the regime, tucked behind a high wall a mile away from Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

They were forgotten, that is, until the American war against Mr. Hussein unearthed state-sanctioned murder and linked the anonymous numbers with the names of those buried here.

Now families are digging up the remains for reburial, and finding for the first time the physical evidence of Hussein's regime. Among the field of markers, number 659 was just another pile of earth, until the al-Atabi family arrived to claim their father, Fadil Sadoun.

"Come back, come back to your family, to your children!" pleads Fadil's daughter, Rabab, at the center of a clutch of women clad in long jet-black gowns who slap their faces in grief. "He's an unimportant man, with children. Why did you kill him?" she wails at her ousted president.

The US fought this war for strategic reasons: to destroy any of Iraq's remaining weapons of mass destruction, to advance US security interests in a post-Sept. 11 world, even--at least in the minds of many Iraqis--to control Mideast oil.

But on the ground in Iraq, tha fall of Hussein is yielding an overwhelming human story of great loss. Families have become gravediggers, sifting through dirt with their fingers to recover every bone and scrap of cloth of Saddam Hussein's legacy.

While these scenes may bring closure to families, they are painful nonetheless. And the families are only now starting to flock to this site.


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