Another trial begins for Hussein

Facing more human rights charges, he urges Iraqis to forgive, reconcile

November 08, 2006|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A subdued Saddam Hussein, who has been sentenced to hang in a human rights trial that concluded this week, walked into a courtroom for another case yesterday and called on warring Iraqis outside to let bygones be bygones.

"I call upon all Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds, to forgive, reconcile and shake hands," the former dictator said, recounting how the prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ showed forgiveness to their enemies.

Four Kurdish witnesses who appeared in court yesterday were in no mood to reconcile with the former leader. Each told of random arrests, torture, firing squads and chemical weapons during the Hussein government's 1988 military operation called Anfal, which means spoils of war.

"I was sick. I was short of breath," said Ismail Ahmed Ismail, a 59-year-old farmer who fled from his village after it was hit by suspected chemical weapons. "My eyes were tearing. Many animals were also dead."

Hussein and six co-defendants are charged with crimes against humanity in connection with the Anfal campaign, during which Iraqi forces attempted to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north by destroying rural villages that harbored anti-government guerrillas.

In the months-long operation, Hussein's government is suspected of killing tens of thousands of Kurds, including women and children. Many victims were buried in mass graves after being riddled with bullets or hit by chemical weapons.

Hussein and two co-defendants received the death penalty for crimes against humanity for their roles in targeting residents of the Shiite Muslim town of Dujayl after an attempt to assassinate Hussein there in 1982. That verdict, announced Sunday, is subject to an automatic appellate review that is to begin within four weeks.

The defendants in the Anfal case include Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, known as Chemical Ali for his suspected role in mustard gas and nerve gas attacks on Kurdish villages and towns during the late 1980s.

Yesterday, witnesses described an Aug. 25, 1988, incident in Koreme, in which three dozen Kurds were shot by a firing squad. At least five survived.

Hussein, who assailed the judge and the court during the reading of his verdict in the Dujayl case Sunday, was calm during yesterday's session.

One witness testified about surviving a firing squad. "I saw 16 soldiers standing, and one of the two officers said, `Sit down,' and the other said, `Shoot,'" said Qahar Khalil Mohammed, a 52-year-old Kurd. "As the shooting started, we fell to the ground."

Though hurt, he managed to drag two survivors to a cave where they recovered from their wounds for more than a week.

Hussein stood to complain that the witness' testimony was not supported by other evidence.

Hussein's privately retained lawyers continued to boycott the courtroom. They have refused to attend the Anfal trial, arguing that Judge Mohammed Orabi Khalefa is predisposed against the defense. Court-appointed lawyers have taken their place.

The trial is to resume today.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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