Kurds recount attacks

Hussein accuses them of trying to create strife between Iraqis

September 12, 2006|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- On trial facing genocide charges, Saddam Hussein used his courtroom time yesterday to urge Iraqis to resist forces he said were trying to divide the country.

"Iraqis will not split," he said.

His comments came on a day of continued sectarian violence. At least 40 people were killed in shootings and bombings, most in Baghdad, including at least 16 who died in a suicide blast at an army recruitment center in the capital, according to authorities.

At yesterday's court session, inside a heavily guarded palace in Baghdad's Green Zone, three witnesses testified about chemical attacks in Kurdistan that left people blinded and maimed.

"All the witnesses said in the courtroom that they were oppressed because they were Kurds," Hussein said. "They're trying to create strife between the people of Iraq. They're trying to create division between Kurds and Arabs, and this is what I want the people of Iraq to know."

Hussein and six co-defendants are charged with killing as many as 100,000 Kurds during a military offensive known as the Anfal campaign in the 1980s. In a separate trial, Hussein has been charged with the killing of 182 Shiites from Dujail after an attempt on his life there in 1982.

Katrin Michael, 56, a former Kurdish fighter who lives in Virginia and works as a writer and editor, recounted two Iraqi air force bombings in 1987 and 1988. During the first attack, the Iraqi military used chemical weapons against the Kurds, she said.

Her testimony confirmed the horror stories in slow and deliberate tones. Like others before her, she described the pungent smell of the chemical agents, like "garlic and apple."

After an attack in June 1987, Michael fled to the mountains along with other Kurds, bringing only a Kalashnikov rifle, she said. Many of her fellow Kurds had been blinded by the attack.

"I saw hundreds of people - not dozens, but hundreds - and they were vomiting with tears coming out of their eyes," Michael testified.

When she arrived in the mountains, she went to see one badly injured victim, Abu Rizgar. "His words were heavy," she said, describing the chemical weapons' effect. "He couldn't speak properly. His voice is still in my ears."

Rizgar, whose back was covered with blisters after the attack, died later that day, she said. Michael blamed not only Hussein and his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali," but also "every international organization and international company who supplied the Iraq regime with these weapons." All those parties, she said, should compensate the victims.

During the Anfal campaign targeting the Kurds, Hussein's regime enjoyed wide support, including arms sales, from the West. A measure to condemn the campaign as genocide failed in the United Nations, and the first Bush administration vetoed a bill to impose sanctions against the regime.

"Chemical weapons used to be dropped regularly," Michael said. "It was genocide."

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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