Genocide Added to Hussein Charges
Iraq’s special criminal court filed genocide charges against Saddam Hussein on Tuesday, accusing the deposed dictator of ordering a series of military attacks in 1988 that killed as many as 100,000 Kurds.
Six aides, including Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan Majid, known as Chemical Ali, also would stand trial in connection with the Anfal campaign, which included attacks against civilian populations using mustard gas and sarin nerve agent.
The trial could prove far more complex and sweeping in scope than the ongoing Dujayl case, which involves the massacre of at least 148 Shiite townspeople in 1982. That trial is scheduled to resume today with further testimony from Hussein.
Tribunal officials said they have accumulated a vast body of evidence in the Anfal case, including command documents of the then-ruling Baath Party and hundreds of witness statements. Investigators exhumed mass graves throughout the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan and conducted forensic tests that allegedly confirm traces of banned chemical agents.
The Anfal campaign was launched, in part, as retribution for an alliance between Kurdish peshmerga soldiers and Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war, according to a 1993 Human Rights Watch Report on the Anfal. But investigators also say the campaign, which destroyed thousands of villages, was part of an “ethnic cleansing” effort.
In the course of eight attacks, Hussein’s army dispersed chemical agents using truck-mounted rocket launchers and crop duster planes, according to Human Rights Watch. The victims, most of whom were civilians, died of asphyxiation and chemical burns.
Other villagers were killed by conventional attacks or rounded up and executed by firing squads. Still others were buried alive, according to survivors’ testimony.
Kurdistan still suffers from the legacy of the campaign. Hundreds of villages are little more than ruins. Others are fouled by chemical pollution in the soil and water wells. Many Kurdish communities endure staggeringly high rates of cancer, stillbirths, liver problems and other ailments associated with chemical poisoning.
Still pained by muted global outrage during the Anfal campaign, many Kurds have eagerly anticipated the exposure the genocide case is expected to generate. But it was unclear Tuesday whether the trial would have to be delayed until the conclusion of the Dujayl case.
Hussein has a right, under Iraqi law, to attend both trials.
A U.S. diplomat also suggested that the Anfal case could be cut short if Hussein received a death sentence in the Dujayl trial.
“It is an absolute requirement that 30 days after the denial of the final appeal, the sentence must be carried out,” the diplomat said.
Despite the voluminous evidence in the Anfal case, legal experts said that making the genocide charge stick could be difficult because it requires prosecutors to prove that Hussein had command responsibility and his intent was to destroy, in whole or in part, a religious, ethnic or national population.
“On the face of it, the genocide [charge] is not irresponsible, but it is very difficult to prove,” said Raymond Brown, an international lawyer who served as a defense attorney in the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Observers of the proceedings also worry that the tribunal will be overwhelmed by the complexity of the case. The Dujayl trial, which has a much narrower focus, has been marked by difficulties, including the assassination of two defense lawyers, the replacement of two judges and Hussein’s frequent outbursts.
“I hope that the court will maintain a lot more order in the Anfal case and not allow Saddam Hussein to turn this court into a circus like he did with the Dujayl case,” said Qubad Talabany, Kurdistan’s representative to the United States.
“We want the court to go through Saddam’s crimes in a systematic way to bring to the world’s attention what he was doing and send a clear message to all the citizens of Iraq of how brutal he was,” Talabany said.
News of the impending trial overshadowed Iraq’s struggle to form a government. With formal discussions in recess, leaders of Iraq’s leading Shiite alliance met privately Tuesday to deliberate whether to replace Ibrahim Jafari as their nominee for prime minister.
Jafari rejected calls that he step aside, saying leaders needed “to protect democracy in Iraq,” according to an interview published today in the British newspaper the Guardian.
“We have to protect democracy in Iraq and it is democracy which should decide who leads Iraq,” he said.
On Tuesday, Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi called for the Shiite prime minister to step aside.
During an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., Mehdi said he met with Jafari the day before and urged him to give up the nomination because he had lost the confidence of the Sunnis and Kurds.
Western and Iraqi officials have repeatedly warned that the delay in forming Iraq’s new unity government has created a dangerous leadership vacuum that has allowed violence to spread.
A parked car exploded near a used car lot in western Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 10 people and injuring 28.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, four people were killed in three separate drive-by shootings, including Judge Haitham Ali Abass, a leader of the Wolf Brigade, an elite commando unit.
In Basra, gunmen shot to death Sheik Nawaf Ahmed Aqrab, a local leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab political group, as he left his house.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. Navy announced the death Sunday of a serviceman in the western province of Al Anbar.