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Saddam back in court but he could hang before the verdict

AFP | August 22 2006

OUSTED Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein defiantly refused to enter a plea yesterday at the start of his trial on charges of genocide over a brutal crackdown against Kurds that allegedly left 182000 people dead.

Grey-bearded and wearing a dark business suit, Saddam sat fuming in the Iraqi High Tribunal along with six co-defendants, accused of leading the savage eight-month Anfal campaign in 1988 against Iraq’s Kurdish minority.

In a rowdy first hearing, the furious 69-year-old said he was “President of the Republic of Iraq”, clashed angrily with the prosecutor over rape claims and shouted at the judge after two of his lawyers were banned from speaking.

Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid – nicknamed “Chemical Ali” because of his alleged fondness for using poison gas – also refused to plead, but the judge ordered that “innocent” pleas be recorded for both men.

The start of the case was marked in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq by five minutes of silence on behalf of Anfal’s victims, while Iraqis across the war-torn country tuned in to television coverage of the historic trial.

“I urge you to listen carefully to the details of these events ... It is difficult to fathom the barbarity of such acts,” lead prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon said, as his team alleged that 182000 Kurds had been killed.

Prosecutors showed the court photographs of mass graves – including one in which the body of an infant child still sucking a milk bottle was buried next to his mother – and detailed the eight stages of the Anfal campaign.

Beginning on February 22, 1988, the Iraqi air-force allegedly began firing chemical weapons into the Juwaid Valley outside the northern city of Sulaimaniyah. This was followed by an artillery barrage.

Over the next eight months, troops sent into Kurdish regions repeatedly used poison gas. Whole villages were isolated and attacked, the prosecutor charged.

“Women, children were transferred to detention centres made in advance. Detainees suffered harshly. Those who died were buried outside the camps …Young women were raped by guards and officials.”

Saddam was most angered over Faroon’s rape allegation. “If he says that an Iraqi woman was raped in my era and, if he does not prove it, I will hunt him for the rest of my life,” he thundered.

The defence is expected to argue that Anfal was a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against Kurdish separatist guerillas who sympathised with the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-1988.

Saddam’s defence counsel, Khalil al-Dulaimi, declared the court illegal, arguing that an administration set up under US tutelage had no right to try Iraqis, an argument used in Saddam’s first trial without success.

Chief judge Abdallah al-Ameri – a Shiite Arab with 25 years on the bench – and his four fellow judges dismissed the defence argument against the court’s legitimacy and adjourned the case until Tuesday.

Saddam had clashed with the judge when asked to identify himself, accusing him of working on behalf of the US forces operating in Iraq. “You are here in the name of the occupier, not in the name of Iraq. My name is known to Iraqis and to the world.”

Saddam has already been tried on a charge that he ordered the execution of 148 Shiite civilians from the town of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt against the then-president. Proceedings in the Anfal trial could be interrupted by the verdict in the Dujail case, as judges are due to announce their verdict on October 16.

If Saddam is found guilty, he could be given the death penalty. If so, he would have an automatic right of appeal, but if he loses he could face the hangman before the Anfal trial is complete.

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