BAGHDAD, Iraq – The chief judge in Saddam Hussein’s trial for genocide against Iraq’s Kurdish population said in court Thursday that the deposed Iraqi president had not been a “dictator.”
The comment seemed sure to raise anew prosecution objections about the judge, Abdullah al-Amiri, a veteran Iraqi jurist who has drawn praise in court from Saddam this week.
On Wednesday, the chief prosecutor, Munqith al-Faroon, asked that the judge step down because, Faroon said, he allegedly allowed Saddam to turn the proceeding into a political forum.
The exchange on Thursday came during the testimony of a Kurdish villager, Abdullah Mohammed Hussein, 49, the latest in a series of witnesses to Iraqi military abuses during the so-called “Anfal” military campaign during the late 1980s. The campaign allegedly left more than 100,000 Kurds dead and is the origin of the allegations against Saddam and six co-defendants.
As he faced Saddam in court, Mohammed said he had once met the former Iraqi president face-to-face when he made his way to Baghdad to inquire about the fate of his missing wife and 7 children. Mohammed’s unusual testimony prompted Saddam to question how it was possible that a supposed “dictator” like himself would agree to have an audience with a humble Kurd like Mohammed.
“You were not a dictator,” said the judge, who also served as a jurist during the Saddam regime.
Saddam went silent for a short bit, as if he could himself not believe what he had heard, prompting the judge to repeat: “You weren’t a dictator.”
The judge did not make clear exactly what he meant, and he and Saddam soon drifted on to other topics.
The Kurd said an Iraqi army offensive had caused him to lose track of his wife, Aysha, and seven of his children, the youngest being a baby girl, Shleer, just more than three months old. He said Iraqi forces invading his village, Sedir, took his family into custody. “I did not know what had happened to my wife and children,” said Mohammed, who testified that he escaped into neighboring Iran with his son, Ali, 9.
Six months later, after an amnesty was issued for Kurds, Mohammed said he returned to Iraq and enlisted in the Iraqi army. But he said doubt haunted him about the fate of his family, and he seized upon the idea of going to Baghdad to see Saddam, long the absolute ruler of Iraq.
Once in the capital, Mohammed said he made his way to the presidential office and asked for an interview with Saddam, who would occasionally see ordinary petitioners in an effort to project a magnanimous image. The Kurd said he was told to write a formal request – and, three days later, he was ushered into a sixth-floor office facing Saddam.
“I prayed to Allah to put mercy in Saddam’s heart, so that he would release my loved ones,” Mohammed testified.
However, Mohammed said Saddam became agitated once Mohammed told him that his family had been detained during the Kurdish offensive.
“They were just lost within the Anfal wave!” Mohammed quoted Saddam as telling him.
Mohammed said he pressed Saddam on the point.
“Do not talk!” the witness said Saddam then told him. “Get out of here!”
Mohammed said he saluted the Iraqi leader and departed, but had a feeling Saddam would release his relatives. It never happened.
Several years later, Mohammed said, he was informed that Kurdish authorities had discovered three identity cards while excavating a mass grave. Among them, he said, were the documents of his wife, Aysha, and two sons, Nasir and Jamal.
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