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Iraq: Hussein Facing Trial For Genocide Against Kurds

By Charles Recknagel

PRAGUE, August 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Former Iraq leader Saddam Hussein went on trial in Baghdad on new charges today, as prosecutors continue to try to prove his personal involvement in abuses committed by his regime.

The second trial against Hussein could be even more lengthy and complex than the first.

That first trial -- which has yet to finish -- has focused on Hussein's culpability in the killing of 148 Shi’a after a 1982 assassination attempt in Al-Dujayl.

Attacks Against The Kurds

But the new trial focuses on Hussein's and his close associates’ roles in the killings of tens of thousands of people in Kurdish-populated areas of northern Iraq.

Those mass killings -- which prosecutors will try to prove constitute genocide and/or crimes against humanity -- took place in a series of eight military campaigns over a six-month period in 1988.

The series of operations was code-named Al-Anfal -- Spoils of War -- after the title of a verse in the Koran. The verse promises “a chastisement of fire" for those who have “made a breach with God and his messenger.”

Ammar al-Shahbander, an Iraq analyst at the London-based Institute of War and Peace Reporting, says the Al-Anfal campaigns from February to September 1988 punished people of all ages and were well-documented by the regime.

“The lists I have seen -- it is a number of lists, not one -- are basically official documents; security intelligence, and military reports; and documents about their actions during the Anfal operations," al-Shahbander said. "They basically registered every move they made. They made a register of the villages they destroyed, of the people they executed. They were so meticulous that they even wrote down how, where, and when they committed a certain act.”

Chemical Ali

The most notorious of Saddam’s associates on trial is his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid.

Al-Majid was given almost presidential powers in northern Iraq to attack Kurds and was nicknamed “Chemical Ali” because of the Iraqi Army’s use of poison gas against civilians.

The Al-Anfal operations came shortly before Iraq ended its 1980-88 war with Iran and was billed a counter-insurgency effort by Baghdad.

The official goal was to wipe out Kurdish resistance that had driven Hussein's forces out of the mountainous interior of Iraqi Kurdistan, sometimes in loose cooperation with Tehran.

But prosecutors say the centrally planned military operations went far beyond a counterinsurgency effort and represent a deliberate campaign of genocide.

Was It Genocide?

Under international definitions, genocide is an intent to destroy in whole or part a particular group -- religious, ethnic, or national -- by engaging in such acts as mass killings and forcible deportations of civilians.

Al-Shahbander says mass abuses of civilians were a hallmark of the Al-Anfal campaigns.

“Abuses included everything, torture of all kinds, rape, beatings, there were no taboos, basically," Al-Shahbander said. "And particularly in Anfal, with people who were not particularly wanted for certain reasons, they would usually just be executed on the spot."

A central part of the Al-Anfal campaigns was the declaration of nongovernment-controlled areas of northern Iraq a “prohibited zone,” where habitation was banned. Everyone living there was regarded as an opponent of the regime, to be dealt with in a shoot-to-kill policy.

This included random artillery bombardments of broad tracts of northern Iraq, plus air raids designed to kill as many people as possible.

A typical Al-Anfal operation combined bomb or chemical attacks from the air with ground troops enveloping a target. As troops looted and torched homes, convoys deported the population to government-controlled areas.

Eyewitnesses have described summary executions and disappearances. Most of those who disappeared remain unaccounted for today and are presumed dead.

Tragedy In Halabjah

The ruthlessness of the Al-Anfal campaigns is clearly expressed in official directives of the time. One reads: “All persons captured in those villages...between ages of 15 and 70 shall be executed after any useful information has been obtained from them.”

Perhaps the best-known attack on civilians during this time was the dropping of chemical weapons -- including mustard gas and the nerve-agent sarin -- on the town of Halabjah.

That March 16, 1988, attack was not technically part of one of the eight Al-Anfal campaigns, but underlined Baghdad’s policy of turning its most powerful weapons upon its own citizens. Some 5,000 people were killed in the attack -- which one day could form the basis of separate trial for Hussein.

The chief judge for the Al-Anfal trial is Abdullah Ali Hussein al-Amiri, a Shi’ite who will preside in the same courthouse in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone where Hussein's Al-Dujayl trial is being held.

Hussein's Al-Dujayl trial is to reconvene on October 15, when a verdict is expected. Prosecutors want the death penalty for Hussein and two of the seven other defendants in the Al-Dujayl case.

The opening of a new trial makes it clear that -- whatever the sentence in the Al-Dujayl case -- Hussein will still be in a courtroom for months more to come.

Observers say the Iraqi government wants to convict Hussein in more than one case to underline the legitimacy of trying him and the justness of whatever final sentence he receives.

It remains unclear if Hussein would face further trials beyond those over Al-Dujayl and Al-Anfal.

Prosecutors say they have enough evidence to try him and his associates over at least four more cases, ranging from domestic political killings to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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