Kurds Describe Chemical Attacks

Times Staff Writer

First the bombs rained down from Iraqi air force planes, witnesses said. Then came artillery and mortar rockets. Finally, another wave of aircraft attacked the Kurdish village with bombs that detonated with strangely muted explosions, followed by a sickly sweet stench like rotten apples.

“Three minutes later people started throwing up and our eyes became sore and started crying,” said Ali Sheik Mustafa, a survivor of Iraqi military offensives during 1987 and 1988 that human rights groups say killed as many as 100,000 Kurds.

Mustafa, from the village of Basilan in the northern region of Kurdistan, was the first witness in the Iraqi Special Tribunal genocide trial of Saddam Hussein and six former aides. The defendants include Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan Majid, also known as Chemical Ali for his alleged authorization of chemical attacks during the regime’s 1988 Anfal military campaign.

Speaking in Kurdish to an Arabic interpreter, Mustafa said that he and his family fled to caves in nearby mountains, but that the chemical weapons already had taken their toll.


“There were two women; one was pregnant and it was her due date,” he said. “When she gave birth, the little infant was trying to see the world, but she wasn’t able to open her eyes. She breathed in the chemicals and died.”

The trial over the Anfal, or “spoils of war,” campaign is the second capital case against Hussein. An earlier trial focused on the alleged involvement of the former Iraqi leader and seven codefendants in the slayings of 148 Shiites after an assassination attempt on Hussein in the village of Dujayl. A verdict in the first trial is expected in October.

Kurdish leaders say they have hundreds of witnesses who can attest to the brutality of the Anfal campaign, and they will hire experts to describe the effects the offensive had on Kurdistan’s environment, economy and health.

Hussein and his codefendants have said they attacked the northern ethnic enclave to stop rebellious pro-Iranian Kurdish fighters and Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq war.


Najebah Khudir Ahmed, 41, the second witness, described a horrific scene in her village of Sheik Wasan. Ahmed said that after she and her family fled the attacks, soldiers shuttled them between several concentration camps and eventually “Anfalized,” or “disappeared,” several of her relatives.

“I went to wash my face. When I came back -- I had one son, he was 3 1/2 years old. They Anfalized him,” she said. “His name is Aram Mustafa Rasul. My nephew was also Anfalized. My other brother was also Anfalized.”

Hussein, dressed in a dark suit and a white open-collared shirt, appeared unfazed as the witnesses, sometimes in tears, testified. At one point, as Mustafa described how gassed villagers stumbled into the mountains, Hussein walked out of the courtroom, presumably for a bathroom break.

And as Ahmed wiped tears from her face during her testimony about the death of her child, Hussein smiled and whispered to someone sitting near him.


The witnesses said they suffered years of sickness because of the chemicals in the weapons. Mustafa, dressed in traditional Kurdish garb and headdress, said his children’s eyes remained scarred from burns sustained during the air raids. His wife, he said, had had three miscarriages since the attacks.

Ahmed said she had had one miscarriage and had given birth to a child with skin deformities since the attacks.

“Saddam Hussein was always talking about the ‘Iraqi people,’ always the ‘Iraqi people,’ ” she said, raising her voice and chopping her fist to mimic the former leader’s public speaking style. “If we are all the Iraqi people, why were you always hitting us with all these weapons?”

Sultan Hashim Ahmad Jabburi Tai, a former defense minister under Hussein and a codefendant, told the court that his forces “were fighting an organized army that lacked only heavy armor and airplanes.” He said the peshmerga, a Kurdish militia that opposed Hussein, had received assistance from Iran.


Defense lawyers also suggested that Iranian airplanes, not Iraqi aircraft, had attacked Kurdistan.

Sabir Abdul Aziz Douri, a former intelligence officer also on trial, said that Iranians were the targets of the 1987-88 military attacks and that the defendants had protected Iraq with “honor and sincerity.”

“This was the battle” of the Iran-Iraq war, he said. “It was not directed against Kurdish civilians. The political and military leaders had no option but to repel Iran.”

Hussein and his lawyers claimed that the two Kurdish witnesses had been coached.


The defense was most skeptical about Ahmed, an illiterate woman who was not sure of her age. They said she identified the planes that she said had bombed her village by their Russian name, Sukhoi, and repeatedly used the Arabic term for regime in describing Hussein’s government, rather than a Kurdish word.

During testimony, however, Ahmed drew her own distinctions about Hussein’s word choices. “Here’s the difference between our ‘mercy’ and Saddam’s ‘mercy,’ ” she said. “In 1991, I cooked meatballs, and when I saw the Arab soldiers in 1991, I gave them the food. I didn’t give it to my children. I gave it to the Arab soldiers.”

“Well done,” Hussein said, smiling.