Kurds describe chemical attack

Testimony at Hussein trial details suffering, loss caused during Anfal campaign

August 24, 2006|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- On that spring evening, the Kurdish villagers had just returned from farming their fields when they heard the roar of airplanes. They knew then they had little time to reach the bunkers. In one house, Adiba Awla Baiz grabbed her children and ran for cover.

After the bombing stopped, she and others started vomiting blood.

"Then I realized it was chemical weapons because we had frequently been attacked by aircrafts, but not like this," Baiz said yesterday as she gave testimony in the second trial of Saddam Hussein. The former Iraqi leader and six co-defendants are accused of killing tens of thousands of Kurds in a brutal offensive known as the Anfal campaign.

Three women and one man described how warplanes dropped chemical weapons on northern Kurdish villages in 1987-1988, recounting horror and hopelessness as friends and relatives got sick and died around them.

"We lost everything," Baiz said, after testifying that her Kurdish village was bombed with chemical weapons in the spring of 1987. Her children were blinded for days, and several people died in the shelter where they had sought refuge, she said.

"May God blind them all, like they blinded us," she added, referring to the defendants.

Echoing testimony by others Tuesday, the four witnesses gave accounts of the fury of the attack, its sound and smells. One described the odor as similar to that of rotten apples; another likened it to the smell of cinnamon.

On April 16, 1987, Baiz and her family were about to eat dinner when they heard the din of the airplanes. Baiz, her husband, their five children and the husband's uncle were already in their shelter when the bombing started, she said.

"My daughter Nergis told me that she had pains in the eyes and the stomach," Baiz said. "When I came closer to her, she vomited on my chest. I washed her face and carried her to the house."

Hearing the sound of approaching helicopters, she and many others fled to the mountains, Baiz said. While the aircraft attacked the roads nearby, Baiz and her children hid in a cave.

The attack left her skin burned and peeling. Several other villagers, including her husband's uncle, died in the attack, its aftermath or in later detention, she said. After villagers had been brought to the hospital, some were taken to a prison.

"An officer came," she said. "Three stars on his shoulder. He was looking at us and he was crying for us. He took pity on us."

Eventually, they were told to go back to their village. But Baiz said she and her children are still scarred from the attack, almost two decades later. Showing medical records in the courtroom, Baiz testified that her children still suffer shortness of breath, her husband cannot be exposed to the sun, and she had three miscarriages after the attack.

"I want compensation, and I ask the court to take the necessary measures to treat the sick people," Baiz said.

Later in the day, Badrya Said Kheder, a 56-year-old woman, testified about losing nine members of her family in the Anfal campaign.

Kheder said villagers were detained for eight days after the attack. "Then the men were taken and disappeared," she said. "They are lost. They are `Anfalized.'"

Among the family members she lost during the campaign were her husband, brothers and uncle.

Kheder said she still suffers physically as a result of the attack. During her testimony, her voice faltered and became weak.

"I have a lot to say but I can't continue," said Kheder, who testified she had come from a hospital a few days previously.

"I ask the government to compensate me, and I ask the court to treat Saddam as he treated us. We were poor people. I don't know why they were bombing us. There was no reason."

Their testimony matched that of the day's two other witnesses: Bahiya Mustafa Mamood, 56, and Mosa Abdullah Mosa, 50.

Mosa said that at the time of the attacks he was a member of the Kurdish militia, which was seeking autonomy for the Kurds of northern Iraq. After the attack, he found the bodies of his brother and his nephew, the pair holding each other in death, he said.

"A person can't describe this feeling," he said. "Just the eyes and the heart saw that situation."

The trial was adjourned until Sept. 11.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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