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Kurds to press their case against Saddam

Saddam stands accused of orchestrating the Anfal campaign against the Kurds, which allegedly left 182,000 dead.

india Updated: Aug 23, 2006 13:00 IST

Prosecutors were to call more Kurd witnesses on Wednesday to describe the horrors of Saddam Hussein's attacks against their communities, on the third day of the ousted Iraqi leader's genocide trial.

Saddam and six co-defendants were to appear before the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad, where they stand accused of orchestrating the 1987-1988 Anfal campaign against Iraq's Kurdish minority, which allegedly left 182,000 people dead.

On Tuesday the court and the deposed Iraqi ruler heard harrowing accounts from two Kurdish villagers, who testified that their villages were bombarded with poison gas in April 1987 in the early stages of the campaign.

"If we were Iraqis, why did you bomb us?" demanded Najiba Khudair Ahmad, a 41-year-old mother, who confronted Saddam.

Her scarred face bore witness to a chemical weapon attack on her village of Sheikwasan.

Anfal -- named after a Koranic term for "spoils of war" -- was an operation directed against Kurds living in northern Iraq in the closing stages of Saddam's long war against neighbouring Iran.

Prosecutors allege that around 3,000 villages were razed while civilians were herded into camps, bombed, gassed, shelled or trucked out to the desert and murdered.

Ali Mustafa Hama, a Kurdish villager with a thick moustache and a traditional black and white headscarf, recalled the evening of April 16, 1987 when he said about eight to 12 jets appeared in the sky.

"The jets started firing on the villages of Belisand and Sheikwasan. The explosions were not very loud," he said, testifying in open court, unlike the witnesses in Saddam's previous trial, whose identities were concealed.

"There was green smoke rising from the bomb, as if there was a rotten apple or garlic smell. Lots of citizens immediately had red eyes and began to vomit. Afterwards it was dark," the middle-aged farmer said.

Hama was the first witness to testify at the trial in Kurdish, the native tongue of his minority community.

Ahmad later told how she lost family members in the attack on Sheikwasan.

"We were blinded. Our men fled to the mountains. I was unable to make it to the mountains. I took shelter in a cave. My father-in-law died in the village, due to chemical weapons. I could not see, I was blind," she said.

"I know Saddam's aim was genocide. To kill Kurds... I swear by God. I can feel it. Saddam's intention was to kill and cleanse the Kurds," she said.

Two of Saddam's six co-accused argued on Tuesday that the Anfal campaign was justified in the context of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war as an offensive against separatist Kurdish guerrillas and Iranian invaders.

"Iranians and Kurds were fighting hand in hand against the Iraqi military," said Sabeer al-Duri, Saddam's former director of military intelligence.

Former defence minister Sultan Hashem al-Tai told the court that Saddam's government had intelligence that Iranian forces were operating in the north.

Court officials expect the Anfal trial to last for around four months. Along with Saddam, six former officials including his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid -- the notorious "Chemical Ali" -- are facing charges.