Kurds testify about gassing

Suffering described at Hussein's trial


BAGHDAD. Iraq -- First the bombs rained down from Iraqi air force planes, witnesses said. Then came artillery and mortar rockets. Finally, another wave of aircraft attacked the Kurdish village with bombs that detonated with strangely muted explosions, followed by a sickly sweet stench like that of rotten apples.

"Three minutes later, people started throwing up and our eyes became sore and started crying," said Ali Sheikh Mustafa, a survivor of military offensives during 1987 and 1988 that human rights groups say killed as many as 100,000 Kurds.

Mustafa, from the village of Basilan in the northern region of Kurdistan, was the first witness to testify at the Iraqi Special Tribunal genocide trial of Saddam Hussein and six former aides. The defendants include Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali" for his alleged authorization of chemical attacks during the government's 1988 military campaign, known as Anfal, which means spoils of war.

Speaking in Kurdish through an Arabic translator, Mustafa said yesterday that he and his family fled to caves in nearby mountains but that the chemical weapons had already taken their toll.

"There were two women. One was pregnant and it was her due date," he said. "When she gave birth, the little infant was trying to see the world, but she wasn't able to open her eyes. She breathed in the chemicals and died."

The trial over the Anfal campaign is the second capital case against Hussein. An earlier trial focused on the alleged involvement of the former leader and six aides in the killing of 148 Shiites after an attempt to assassinate Hussein in the village of Dujayl. A verdict in that trial is due in October.

Kurdish leaders say they have hundreds of witnesses who can attest to the brutality of the Anfal campaign and that they will hire experts to describe the harmful effects the offensive had on Kurdistan's environment, economy and health.

Hussein and his co-defendants have said that they attacked the northern ethnic enclave to combat pro-Iranian Kurdish fighters and Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq war.

Najebah Khudir Ahmed, 41, the second witness, said that in her village, Sheik Wasan, after her family fled chemical attacks, soldiers shuttled them among concentration camps and eventually "Anfalized" several of her relatives, meaning made them disappear.

"I went to wash my face. When I came back I had one son, he was 3 1/2 years old. They Anfalized him," she said. "His name is Aram Mustafa Rasul. My nephew was also Anfalized. My other brother was also Anfalized."

Hussein appeared to be unfazed as the witnesses, sometimes in tears, testified. At one point, as Mustafa described gassed villagers stumbling into the mountains, Hussein walked out of the courtroom.

As Ahmed wiped tears from her face during her testimony about the death of her child, Hussein smiled and whispered to someone sitting near him.

The witnesses described the initial gassing of their villages and years of sickness resulting from their exposure to chemicals in the weapons.

Sultan Hashim Ahmad Jabori Tai, a co-defendant who was defense minister under Hussein, told the court that his forces "were fighting an organized army that lacked only heavy armor and airplanes." The defense also suggested that Iranian airplanes, not Iraqi ones, attacked Kurdistan.

Sabir Abed Aziz Husayn Duri, a former intelligence officer who is also on trial, said the Iranians were the real targets of the 1987-1988 military attacks and that the defendants had defended Iraq with "honor and sincerity."

"This was the battle of [the Iran-Iraq war]," he said. "It was not directed against Kurdish civilians."

Hussein and his attorneys also claimed that the two Kurdish witnesses had been coached.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times

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