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Former Saddam aide on trial for '91 uprising

Former commanders of Saddam Hussein's military go on trial in Baghdad on Tuesday for their role in crushing a Shi'ite rebellion in southern Iraq at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

world Updated: Aug 21, 2007 13:15 IST

Former commanders of Saddam Hussein's military go on trial in Baghdad on Tuesday for their role in crushing a Shi'ite rebellion in southern Iraq at the end of the 1991 Gulf War in which tens of thousands were killed.

Standing alongside the military officers are Saddam's former defence minister at the time and his personal secretary.

The most high profile of the 15 defendants is Saddam's feared cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as "Chemical Ali".

The rebellion, and a simultaneous one in Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, erupted spontaneously in early March 1991 after a US-led coalition routed Saddam's army in Kuwait. Rebels seized control of many cities and towns in the south.

The rebels expected US forces to come to their aid, especially since U.S. President George Bush had called on the Iraqi people and the military to oust Saddam.

But, in a decision that has since been much debated, Bush and his coalition partners held their troops in check and Saddam was given a free hand to launch a swift counter-attack with tanks and helicopters.

Tens of thousands are estimated to have been killed in the crackdown, either by the pursuing security forces or in prison. Prosecutors in the case have put the death toll at 100,000.

Bush has since argued that while he hoped a popular revolt would topple Saddam, he did not want to see the break-up of the Iraqi state and feared the collapse of the multi-national coalition, including Arab states, that he had assembled.

The 15 accused face charges of crimes against humanity "for engaging in widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population".

Three of the accused, including Majeed, were sentenced to death in the earlier Anfal trial, which dealt with a military campaign against Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988 in which tens of thousands of people were killed.

The five convicted in the Anfal case are appealing their sentences. If Majeed and the two others sentenced to death lose their appeal they could be executed before the 1991 Uprising trial is completed.

The court will hear about 90 witnesses and hear audio tapes and after-action reports. US officials involved in the court said there was little remaining evidence of the orders given because Saddam had ordered the destruction of records.

Saddam himself was hanged in December 2006 after being found guilty in the killing of scores of Shi'ite men in the town of Dujail after an attempt on his life there in 1982.