The remains of 222 people, probably Kurds killed under Iraq's former regime in 1987, were extracted from a mass grave south of Baghdad, the authorities said on Sunday.

"We have found 222 bodies and we have transferred them to the morgue in the province of Najaf," said Karim Ziad, the official in charge of mass graves at the Department of Human Rights.

Iraqi authorities announced on Wednesday they had discovered another mass grave with 900 corpses in the Shanafiyah region near the city of Diwaniyah.

Ziad said several factors suggested that the victims, most with bullet wounds, were Kurds killed during the regime of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

"The mass graves are made up of six trenches, and we have done (work) on only three of them," he said, suggesting the number of victims could be much higher.

Dakhil Saihoud, provincial head of the Justice and Accountability Commission which investigates issues relating to the former regime, said he was informed there were 17 trenches at the site.

"It is possible there are hundreds of bodies in there," he told AFP.

"The mass graves are crimes against humanity committed in 1987," said Human Rights Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. "This is one of 84 sites listed at our ministry, and we have completed work on 34 of them," he said.

Widad Hatem, director of the Committee for Human Rights in Diwaniyah's provincial council, said women and children were among the victims.

Maghoul Abdullah, an old man of more than 90, said he remembered people being rounded up in town.

"The security forces of the old regime evacuated the area and forced us to leave the place. After a few days, large trucks took away people at night, and we even clearly heard their cries," he said.

During Iraq's 1980-1988 war with Iran, deserters were executed and the Sunni Arab dictator intensified a crackdown on Shiites suspected of sympathising with Iraq's predominantly Shiite neighbor.

Kurds were persecuted because they were the main opposition to Saddam.

The number of people missing as a result of atrocities committed by Saddam, who came to power in 1979, is estimated at anywhere between 300,000 and 1.3 million, according to various sources.

Human rights groups believe there are hundreds of mass graves in Iraq of people killed during Saddam's rule.

Shortly after the 2003 invasion, the US-led coalition said there were 263 mass reported graves of people executed in Iraq under Saddam, including 40 containing evidence of systematic killings.