BAGHDAD, Iraq – A subdued Saddam Hussein, already sentenced to hang in a human rights trial that concluded this week, walked into a courtroom for another case Tuesday and called on warring Iraqis outside to let bygones be bygones.
“I call upon all Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds, to forgive, reconcile and shake hands,” the former dictator said, recounting how the prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ showed forgiveness to their enemies.
But four Kurdish witnesses who appeared in court Tuesday were in no mood to reconcile with the former leader. Each recounted narratives of random arrests, grueling torture, firing squads and chemical weapons during his regime’s 1988 military operation called Anfal, or “spoils of war.”
“I was sick. I was short of breath,” said Ismail Ahmed Ismail, a 59-year-old farmer who fled in panic from his village after it was allegedly targeting by chemical weapons. “My eyes were tearing. Many animals were also dead.”
Saddam and six co-defendants face charges of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in orchestrating the Anfal campaign, in which Iraqi forces attempted to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north by destroying rural villages that harbored anti-government guerrillas.
In the months-long operation, Saddam’s government allegedly killed tens of thousands of Kurds, including women and children. Many victims were buried in mass graves after being riddled with bullets or targeted with chemical weapons.
Saddam and two co-defendants already face the death penalty for crimes against humanity for their roles in targeting residents of the Shiite Muslim town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt there against the former leader. That verdict, announced Sunday, is subject to an automatic appellate review beginning within four weeks.
The defendants in the Anfal case include Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, known popularly as Chemical Ali for his alleged role in mustard gas and nerve gas attacks on Kurdish villages and towns during the late 1980s.
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