Genocide charges filed against Hussein

Anfal campaign killed thousands of Kurds

April 05, 2006|By SOLOMON MOORE | SOLOMON MOORE,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's special criminal court filed genocide charges against former dictator Saddam Hussein yesterday, charging that he ordered a series of military attacks in 1988 that killed up to 100,000 Kurds.

Six aides, including Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," also would stand trial for the Anfal campaign, which included attacks in which mustard gas and sarin nerve agent were used against civilians.

The trial could prove far more complex and sweeping in scope than the continuing Dujail case, which involves the massacre of at least 148 Shiite townspeople in 1982. That trial is scheduled to resume today with further testimony from Hussein.

Tribunal officials said they have accumulated a vast body of evidence, including command documents and hundreds of witness statements, to present at the genocide trial. Investigators exhumed mass graves throughout the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan and conducted forensic tests that are said to confirm traces of banned chemical agents.

The Anfal campaign was launched, in part, as retribution for an alliance between Kurds and Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war, according to a 1993 Human Rights Watch Report. But investigators also say the campaign, which destroyed 2,000 villages, was part of an ethnic cleansing effort to rid swaths of the northern province of Kurds.

In the course of eight attacks, Hussein's army deployed chemical weapons with truck-mounted rocket launchers and crop-duster planes, according to Human Rights Watch. The victims, most of whom were civilians, died of asphyxiation and chemical burns.

Other victims were killed by conventional attacks or rounded up and executed by firing squads. Still others were buried alive, according to survivors' testimony.

Kurdistan still suffers. Hundreds of villages were reduced to ruins. Soil and well water were fouled by chemicals. Many Kurdish communities endure high rates of cancer, stillbirths, liver problems and other ailments associated with chemical poisoning.

Still pained by the muted world reaction during the Anfal campaign, many Kurds have eagerly anticipated the exposure the genocide case would bring. But it is unclear whether the trial will have to be delayed until after the Dujail case. Hussein has a legal right to attend both trials.

A U.S. diplomat suggested that the Anfal case could be cut short if Hussein receives a death sentence in the Dujail trial. "It is an absolute requirement that 30 days after the denial of the final appeal, the sentence must be carried out," the diplomat said.

Despite the voluminous evidence in the Anfal case, legal experts said that making the genocide charge stick could be difficult, because it requires prosecutors to prove that Hussein had command responsibility and that his intent was to destroy, in whole or in part, a religious, ethnic or national population.

"On the face of it, the genocide [charge] is not irresponsible, but it is very difficult to prove," said Raymond Brown, an international lawyer who served as a defense attorney in the Special Court of Sierra Leone.

Observers of the proceedings also worry that the tribunal will be overwhelmed by the complexity of the case. The Dujail trial, which has a much narrower focus, has been marred by problems, including the assassination of two defense lawyers, the replacement of two judges and Hussein's frequent outbursts.

"I hope that the court will maintain a lot more order in the Anfal case and not allow Saddam Hussein to turn this court into a circus like he did with the Dujail case," said Qubad Talabany, Kurdistan's representative to the United States.

"We want the court to go through Saddam's crimes in a systematic way to bring to the world's attention what he was doing and send a clear message to all the citizens of Iraq of how brutal he was," Talabani said.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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