Witness at Saddam Hussein's trial says he survived massacre by feigning death

Tuesday, October 31st 2006, 6:19 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A witness testified at Saddam Hussein's genocide trial Tuesday that he survived a massacre by feigning death when Iraqi soldiers shot at Kurdish detainees lying at their feet.

The witness, who testified from behind a curtain to conceal his identity, said he was one of dozens of prisoners who were taken in buses to an execution site in western Iraq in April 1988 during the crackdown by Saddam's regime on the Kurdish population.

Saddam and six co-defendants are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in the Operation Anfal crackdown, which the prosecution says killed some 180,000 Kurds. Saddam and one other defendant are also charged with genocide.

The witness said the prisoners knew they were going to be shot when they arrived at the killing site near Ramadi because they heard gunfire. They recited Islamic prayers that are customary before death, asking for one's sins to be forgiven.

``The guards took two prisoners at a time from the bus, shot them dead and dragged their bodies to a huge ditch,'' he said.

He said when it was his turn, he and his cousin got off the bus and were blindfolded and handcuffed. The guards then asked them to lie on the ground before spraying them with bullets.

``I felt no pain,'' the witness testified. ``I thought that maybe when the bullet pierces the body, one doesn't feel the pain, but then I heard my cousin dying. We were pulled away by our legs. I pretended I was dead.''

The witness did not explain how the guards could have missed him when they were shooting at point-blank range and he was one of only two targets.

He said the guards dumped him in a ditch where there were many other bodies. He removed his blindfold and saw a guard walking through the ditch shooting at people who were not yet dead.

When night fell, the witness said, he crept out the ditch and walked for three days without food or water. Finally he found refuge in a Kurdish town in northern Iraq.

The court heard four more Kurdish witnesses and then adjourned to Nov. 7.