NAJAF, Iraq, July 9 (UPI) -- The sectarian violence in Iraq has resulted in too many dead bodies for a five-million grave cemetery to hold, causing families to resort to desperate measures.
Iraq's largest cemetery, Wadi al-Salam, stretches over 1,500 acres with five million brick headstones sticking above the earth about a foot away from each other next to the Shiite shrine, the Imam Ali mosque. It is running out of graves near the mosque, driving families to dig up sidewalks or steal plots to bury their loved ones.
The number of buried dead in the cemetery has more than doubled to 200 per day since June. Estimates show more than 1,500 civilians have died since the violence started.
"It is just like the days when we had regular explosions in Baghdad," undertaker Najah Abu Sebei told the Wall Street Journal.
Gravediggers must have permission from the government to work in the cemetery, but opportunistic and unauthorized gravediggers linger around the area to stop grieving families before they reach the undertakers' offices with promises of cheap prices and good plots.
Abdul Razak Ali, one of the people who buried his family in the cemetery, said he once went to visit his mother's grave and found someone buried in his father's empty plot. When they found the person's family, they said an unauthorized gravedigger told the impoverished family that he would bury their loved one on his land for $400. Ali said he chose not to remove the body since it was not the family's fault.
"But now my father cannot be buried next to my mother," he said.