Saddam calls for Iraq unity as suicide bomber strikes Baghdad

BAGHDAD – Saddam Hussein called on Iraqis to unite and “forgive” each other, but a suicide bomber later blew himself up in a cafe in Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding 20 more.

“I call on all Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds, to forgive, reconcile and shake hands,” Saddam said in court after questioning a prosecution witness in the second trial against him. The former president, known for his temper and outbursts, was calm and composed, as four witnesses testified how his forces massacred relatives and fellow villagers in northern Iraq during the 1988 Anfal campaign.

Prosecutors say the campaign was a genocidal massacre of 182,000 Kurdish civilians. Saddam and his alleged henchmen insist it was a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against separatists at a time of war with Iran.

On Sunday, Saddam was sentenced to hang in a separate trial for ordering the killing of 148 Shiite villagers from the village of Dujail, where he escaped an assassination attempt in 1982.

Saddam and the six other defendants including his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali”, face the death penalty if convicted in the Anfal trial, which will resume on Wednesday.

The former leader could go to the gallows within months over the Dujail killings even before the Kurdish case winds up. He and Majid are the only ones facing charges of genocide.

On Tuesday the session began with a smiling Saddam walking calmly into the courtroom wearing his trademark dark business suit and taking his usual seat in front of the judges even as his defence team boycotted the trial.

The chief judge, Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifa, quickly opened the 21st session by summoning the day’s first Kurdish witness.

Qahar Khalil Mohammed told the court how dozens of Iraqi Kurds, including 18 of his relatives, were gunned down by Saddam’s forces in 1988 in the village of Quromai in Kurdish northern Iraq.

He said an Iraqi army officer, swearing on the Koran, had assured the villagers no harm would come to them if they surrendered and that they would be offered amnesty by Saddam.

“Trusting the officer, we surrendered,” he said. “They led us out of the village, separated men from the women and children. A total of 37 men were separated, including myself.”

He said the officer later lined up the men and ordered the soldiers to fire at them. “We all fell to the ground. When the first magazine was emptied, they began reloading with a second magazine and then a third magazine,” he said.

The officer told the soldiers to “shoot everyone with a bullet. A soldier hit me on my forehead,” the witness told the judge, lifting his turban to reveal a deep scar there.

He was also shot in the back, and showed his back to a court-appointed defence lawyer who demanded to see his bullet wounds.

He said he escaped after the soldiers left, and saw that his father and two brothers were among 18 relatives who had been killed. A total of 33 people died there, according to the Kurdish villager.

Saddam heard the entire testimony quietly and later stood up to reject it. “There is nobody to check this testimony. Who supports his claim? Nobody,” he said. “Will that way lead us to the truth?”

The day’s second witness, Abdul Karim Nayif, 39, and from the same village as Mohammed, backed up the account and presented a video film he said was of the site where the villagers were shot.