Kurd tells Saddam court relatives found in graves
BAGHDAD – An Iraqi Kurd told Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial on Tuesday how the remains of his mother and sisters were found in a mass grave 200 km (120 miles) from their village after it was razed by Saddam’s troops.
A defiant Saddam defended his policy of crushing Kurdish rebels in the 1980s as his Sunni-led government fought a war against Iran and shouted before the judge cut his microphone: “You are agents of Iran and Zionism. We will crush your heads!”
Addressing the ex-leader with a taunting: “Congratulations, Saddam Hussein. You are now in a cage!” Abdul Ghafour described how he fled to neighboring Iran with other relatives as troops shelled the village in Iraq’s Kurdistan in February of 1988.
The toppled leader later fired back, telling the judge: “When you cage a lion, any coward can poke a stick at him.”
Speaking calmly in Kurdish, Abdul Ghafour said the remains of his mother and two sisters, along with their identity cards, were unearthed in a desert mass grave 15 years after the attack on the mountain village of Seydar, near northern Sulaimaniya.
“I don’t know why these tragedies came to us. Is it only because we’re Kurds?” he said.
Dressed in a dark suit and tieless, Saddam stroked his beard and listened silently to the witness, but erupted into a rage during cross-examination when a civil attorney described Kurdish peshmerga militias as freedom fighters battling his tyranny.
“From 1961 to 2003, rebellion is rebellion. Let’s come up with one country which had a rebellion that wasn’t confronted by the army,” he said.
The court was adjourned until Wednesday after the judge listened to three more survivors describe gas attacks.
Saddam and six other defendants accused over the 1988 Anfal operation which prosecutors say left 182,000 ethnic Kurds dead or missing have said the attacks were legitimate military strikes against Iraqi Kurds fighting alongside Shi’ite Iran against the Baghdad government during the 1980s.
Thousands were rounded up and ended up in mass graves.
Saddam, 69, his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as “Chemical Ali,” and five former commanders face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in Anfal.
Saddam and Majeed also face a charge of genocide. All face the death penalty. Saddam is waiting for a verdict next month from his first trial for crimes against humanity in the killing of some 148 Shi’ite men from the town of Dujail in the 1980s.
The former leader, who has dismissed the U.S.-backed trials as little more than political vendetta by his Shi’ite and Kurdish enemies, demanded that “Switzerland or a similar neutral country” examine all evidence found in mass graves.
Majeed, who earned his nickname for allegedly masterminding gas attacks had a more banal demand for the judge.
Complaining of his frugal living conditions in a U.S.-protected cell he politely asked for a television set. The judge did not respond.