On May the 16 th. 2003, two significant mass graves have been discovered near the al-Mahawil military base containing the bodies of more than two thousand persons. The chaotic and unprofessional manner in which the mass graves around al-Hilla and al-Mahawil were unearthed made it impossible for many of the relatives of missing persons to identify positively many of the remains, or even to keep the human remains intact and separate. In the absence of international assistance, Iraqis used a backhoe to dig up the mass graves, literally slicing through countless bodies and mixing up remains in the process. At the end, more than one thousand corpses at the al-Mahawil grave sites were again reburied without being identified. In addition, because no forensic presence existed at the site, crucial evidence necessary for future trials of the persons responsible for the mass executions was never collected, and indeed may have been irreparably destroyed.
U.S. forces have explained this failure by asserting that any efforts to halt diggings at mass graves of victims of massacres would thwart the understandable determination of desperate relatives to confirm the fate of missing loved ones, and would thereby risk causing serious disturbances. Yet, despite the fact that U.S. authorities had every reason to anticipate that, this would be a pressing matter based on what was known about Iraqi repression and the experience in other post-conflict situations.
Those whose bodies were recovered from these mass graves were the victims of a coordinated campaign of repression, arrests, and executions carried out by the Iraqi government in the aftermath of the failed Shi`a uprising in 1991.