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Anfal operation targeted Kurd rebels: Defendants

Saddam is charged with genocide over the 1987-1988 Operation Anfal, in which troops swept across northern Iraq, destroying villages.

india Updated: Aug 22, 2006 15:44 IST

Defendants in the new trial of Saddam Hussein insisted on Tuesday that the military was attacking only Iranian troops and Kurdish rebels when it launched the Anfal campaign in the 1980s in which tens of thousands of Kurds were killed.

Their comments came on the second day of the trial, in which Saddam is charged with genocide over the 1987-1988 Operation Anfal, in which troops swept across parts of northern Iraq, destroying villages.

The court heard a survivor of the campaign testify how his village of Balisan was bombed by chemical weapons.

"I saw eight to 12 jets ... There was greenish smoke from the bombs. It was if there was a rotten apple or garlic smell minutes later. People were vomiting... we were blind and screaming. There was no one to rescue us. Just God," Ali Mostafa Hama told the court.

Hama, wearing a traditional Kurdish headdress, said he saw a newborn infant die during the bombardment.

"The infant was trying to smell life, but he breathed in the chemicals and died," he said, speaking in Kurdish with an Arabic translator.

Along with Saddam, six co-defendants -- mostly military figures -- are on trial in the case.

One of them, Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who led the Anfal campaign, faces genocide charges, while the others are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Two of the co-defendants addressed the court and insisted Anfal was targeted at Iranian troops and allied Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq at a time when Iraq and Iran were locked in a bloody war.

"The goal was to fight an organized, armed army ... the goal was not civilians," said Sultan Hashim al-Tai, who was the commander of Task Force Anfal and head of the Iraqi Army 1st Corps.

He said civilians in the areas where Anfal took place were "safely transported" to other areas, including the northern city of Kirkuk.

The orders in the campaign were "to prevent the Iranian army from occupying Iraq at whatever price," al-Tai said. "I implemented them precisely and sincerely without adding anything or exceeding my powers."

"I never turned a blind eye to any violation," said al-Tai, who later served as Saddam's last defence minister, up until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled the regime. Sabir al-Douri, the director of Military Intelligence at the time of Anfal, said "the Iranian army and Kurdish rebels were fighting together" against the Iraqi army and that Anfal aimed to clear northern Iraq of Iranian troops.

He insisted the Iraqi government faced a "tough situation" and had to act because the area where the Iranian-allied guerrillas were located had dams that, if destroyed, would flood Baghdad. He said civilians in the Anfal region had already been removed.

"You will see that we are not guilty and that we defended our country honourably and sincerely," al-Douri said.

Saddam and the six co-defendants face possible execution by hanging if convicted in the Anfal case, which is the second trial the former Iraqi leader has faced over alleged atrocities by his regime.

A verdict is due to be pronounced on October 16 in the first trial, which concerned a crackdown on Shiites in the town of Dujail in the 1980s.

If Saddam is sentenced to death in the Dujail case and the verdict stands up on appeal, Iraqi law provides for him to be taken off the second case for the sentence to be carried out, though Iraqi officials have been unclear on whether they would do so or continue with the Anfal case.

First Published: Aug 22, 2006 15:44 IST