Smiling Saddam back in court

The former president appeared in court again, this time to face separate genocide charges over an alleged massacre in 1988.

“I call on all Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds, to forgive, reconcile and shake hands,” Saddam said in the court after he questioned a witness who testified against him in the ongoing genocide trial.

The former president, known for his temper and outbursts, was calm and composed in the dock, as four witnesses testified how his forces massacred relatives and fellow villagers in northern Iraq during the 1988 Anfal campaign.

Prosecutors say the Anfal campaign was a genocidal massacre of 182,000 Kurdish civilians. Saddam and his alleged henchmen insist it was a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against separatists at a time of war with Iran.

Saddam and the six other defendants including his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali”, face the death penalty if convicted in the Anfal trial.

But the former leader could go to the gallows within months over the Dujail killings even before the Kurdish case winds up. He and
Majid are the only ones facing charges of genocide.

Saddam ‘calm’

The latest courtroom session began with a smiling Saddam walking calmly in to the courtroom wearing his trademark dark business suit and taking his usual seat in front of the judges even as his defence team boycotted the trial.

The chief judge in the genocide trial, Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifa, quickly opened the 21st session by summoning the day’s first Kurdish witness, Qahar Khalil Mohammed.

Mohammed told the court how dozens of Iraqi Kurds, including 18 of his relatives, were gunned down by Saddam’s forces in 1988 in the village of Quromai in Kurdish northern Iraq.

He said an Iraqi army officer, swearing on the Koran, had assured the villagers no harm would come to them if they surrendered and they would be offered amnesty by Saddam.

“Trusting the officer, we surrendered,” he said. “They led us out of the village, separated men from the women and children. A total of 37 men were separated, including myself.”

He said the officer later lined up the men and ordered the soldiers to fire at them. The officer told the soldiers to “shoot everyone with a bullet.

Saddam heard the entire testimony quietly and later stood up to reject it. “There is nobody to check this testimony. Who supports his claim? Nobody,” he said. “Will that way lead us to the truth?”

Dozens of Kurdish witnesses have given similar chilling accounts in previous sessions of how Saddam’s forces swept through their villages in 1988, killing thousands in chemical gas attacks and razing their homes.

Ba’ath threats

Saddam’s disbanded Ba’ath party, meanwhile, threatened to attack the heavily-protected “Green Zone” in Baghdad if the death sentence for Dujail is carried out, according to an Internet statement posted on yesterday.

It vowed to “use all possible means to destroy embassies, as well as the headquarters of intelligence and treacherous organisations” in the heavily-protected Green Zone nerve centre of US-backed power of Baghdad.

A day after the death sentence, however, a top official in Baghdad said that Iraqi leaders had agreed a draft law to allow former Ba’ath members back into government jobs.