BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi authorities filed genocide charges against Saddam Hussein on Tuesday, accusing the ousted ruler and six others in a 1980s crackdown that killed an estimated 100,000 Kurds in northern Iraq.
In alleging Saddam sought to exterminate the Kurds, the prosecutors are for the first time accusing him of the sort of far-reaching crimes that the Bush administration has used to justify the war in Iraq.
The former Iraqi president returns to court today in his current 6-month-old trial, facing a possible death sentence if convicted in the killings of more than 140 Shiites. Defense lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi said Saddam plans to make a statement to the court.
But that case involves a relatively small number of victims, and the scope of the allegation pales in comparison to the crackdown against the Kurds or the suppression of the Shiite uprising in south Iraq in 1991.
Investigative judge Raid Juhi told reporters he submitted the new case against Saddam and the others to the Iraqi High Tribunal – a legal step that is the equivalent of an indictment under Iraqi law.
His move paves the way for a second trial, which could begin any time after 45 days. Juhi said charges also include crimes against humanity.
Legal experts said the decision to accuse Saddam of genocide is controversial because the charge is difficult to prove. An international convention following the Nazi Holocaust of World War II defined genocide as an effort “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
The latest charges involve Saddam’s alleged role in Operation Anfal, the 1988 military campaign launched in the final months of the war with Iran to crush independence-minded Kurdish militias and clear Kurds from the sensitive Iranian border area of northern Iraq.
Saddam had accused Kurdish militias of ties to Iran. Thousands of Kurdish villages were razed and their inhabitants either killed or displaced.
A memo released by the tribunal said the Anfal campaign included “savage military attacks on civilians,” including “the use of mustard gas and nerve agents … to kill and maim rural villagers and to drive them out of their homes.”
“These people were subjected to forced displacement and illegal detention involving thousands of civilians,” Juhi said. “They were placed in different detention centers. The villages were destroyed and burned. Homes and houses of worshippers and buildings of civilians were leveled without reason or a military requirement.”
Others accused in the Anfal case include Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, or “Chemical Ali”; former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad; former intelligence chief Saber Abdul Aziz al-Douri; former Republican Guard commander Hussein al-Tikriti; former Nineveh provincial Gov. Taher Tafwiq al-Ani; and former top military commander Farhan Mutlaq al-Jubouri.