Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein, whose forces brutally crushed a Shia uprising in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War Getty Images

Iraqi forensic teams in Basra have found a mass grave containing 377 bodies believed to be mainly women and children killed by Saddam Hussein's forces during the failed Shia uprising of 1991.

The mass grave was found in the east of Basra province, and is the second largest ever discovered in southern Iraq, Mehdi Tamimi, an Iraqi government human rights officer said in a statement.

"The first stage of exhuming bodies has been initiated. Bodies are mainly believed to be women and children," said Tamimi, adding that more money was required for further excavations at the site.

Human rights organisations believe that tens of thousands were killed after the rebellion by Shia groups in the south of Iraq and Kurds in the north in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War.

Around 10 per cent of the country was displaced in the conflict with tens of thousands fleeing to Iran and neighbouring Turkey, with many blaming the US for failing to intervene to stop the slaughter, after it offered public support for the uprisings.

Tamimi said there are more than 40 mass graves in Basra province, and stressed the need for them to be preserved properly in order to document the human remains and other evidence at the sites.

A number of mass graves were discovered in southern and northern Iraq after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by a US-led coalition.

Mass graves of the victims of Isis violence in northern Iraq are also being exhumed by Iraqi authorities.