Saddam Hussein's genocide trial against the Kurds resumes

Tuesday, October 17th 2006, 8:48 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Saddam Hussein on Tuesday attacked prosecution witnesses in his trial for genocide against the Kurds, accusing them of sowing division among Iraqis for the benefit of Israel.

The deposed leader addressed the court after two Kurds testified that during a military offensive in northern Iraq in 1988, they were detained in a camp where conditions were so bad that hundreds of prisoners died of malnutrition.

``This will only serve the separation,'' Saddam said, referring to the deepening division among Iraqis as shown by the rising death toll in the insurgency and sectarian fighting.

``The Zionists are the only ones who will benefit from the differences among Iraqis,'' Saddam added.

Earlier, another defendant testified that his lawyer wanted to break ranks with the three-week legal boycott of the trial, but when the judge summoned the attorney, he failed to appear.

And the chief defense lawyer for Saddam denied in an interview that any of the defense attorneys would end their boycott.

The back-and-forth was a continuation of the procedural difficulties that have plagued the trial in which Saddam and six members of his regime are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity during a military offensive against Iraq's Kurdish population in 1987-88. Saddam and one other defendant are also charged with genocide.

Sultan Hashim Al-Tai, who was defense minister under Saddam, told the judge he had spoken to his two counsel, ``they want to attend,'' and they were waiting outside.

But when chief judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa called the lawyers in, the bailiff reported they were not outside.

The judge said he would communicate with al-Tai's two counsel and tell them they would be allowed to retake their seats in the trial.

Chief defense attorney Khalil al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press that al-Tai's lawyers ``coordinate very closely'' with him and would not abandon the boycott.

The lawyers could not be reached Tuesday.

The defense team withdrew from the trial last month when the chief judge was replaced on grounds of his being too soft on Saddam. The lawyers protested the judge's dismissal and said they would return when the court gave them more time to review the prosecution's documents and allowed foreign lawyers to attend the hearings without restrictions.

``From my previous experience with this court, I don't think it will meet our demands,'' al-Dulaimi said Tuesday.

A Kurdish witness _ Mutalib Mohammed Salman, 78 _ told the court that his wife and 32 relatives disappeared in 1988 after troops overran his village in northern Iraq.

Salman said his wife's body and the remains of two other relatives were found in a mass grave after Saddam's regime was toppled in 2003.

The man said that after his arrest in the offensive, he was kept at a prison where the conditions were so bad that an average of 30 persons a day died from malnutrition.

A second witness, Omar Hassan Omar, 71, said his family disappeared after Iraqi forces attacked his village in 1988. He told the court he was detained with ``thousands'' of fellow Kurds in a camp where hundreds of people died.

Saddam, who has often been reprimanded for shouting in court, spoke calmly as he cross-examined Omar. He asked how many rooms were in the camp, apparently trying to suggest that Omar had exaggerated the number of detainees.

The prosecution says about 180,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the offensive, codenamed Operation Anfal. If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to death by hanging.

On Monday, gunmen killed Imad al-Faroon, the brother of the chief prosecutor in the trial. The assailants burst into his home and shot him to death in front of his wife, government official Ali al-Lami said.

Al-Faroon's slaying came less than three weeks after the fatal shooting of a brother-in-law of a judge in the trial.