Witness in Saddam trial describes pain from gas attack

Monday, September 18th 2006, 6:29 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A man testified Monday during Saddam Hussein's genocide trial that he temporarily lost his eyesight as the result of a chemical attack by Iraqi forces on his northern village nearly two decades ago.

But Saddam shot back at the witness, an Iraqi Kurd who later became a Dutch citizen, declaring he wasn't an Iraqi under law and questioned if his testimony counted.

Witness Karawan Abdellah, a former Kurdish guerrilla, said he continues to live in ``pain and suffering'' after the gas attack in March 1988, which followed Iraqi airstrikes on guerrilla positions in Shanakhesiya village.

Abdellah said he was hospitalized for six months, during which time he couldn't see at all.

``When I take off my glasses in front of my children, they tell me to wear them again because they get scared of the way my eyes look,'' he said about his current condition.

Abdellah then took off the dark glasses he wore on the witness stand, saying ``I want the cameras to show my eyes.'' They looked slightly swollen, with grayish pupils.

Saddam and six co-defendants are being tried on charges of committing atrocities against Kurds during the Operation Anfal crackdown in northern Iraq nearly two decades ago. The prosecution alleges some 180,000 people died in the campaign, many of them killed by poison gas.

Abdellah testified that as he walked toward a nearby guerrilla headquarters after the 1988 attack, he said he saw ``bodies of dead women, children and elderly men. They were killed by chemical weapons.''

He said although he took an antidote, he felt ``pains'' in his body and his skin was irritated.

``I also vomited and my eyes turned reddish gradually and became watery,'' said the man, speaking slowly in Kurdish through an Arabic translator, as he read his notes.

Abdellah said he received further treatment in the Netherlands, where he applied for asylum and was granted a Dutch passport in 1994.

``Until now, I have sensitivity to strong light and itches on my skin,'' he said, adding that tests in the Netherlands and earlier ones in Iran ``proved that I was the victim of a chemical attack.'' He presented the reports to court.

Saddam questioned the viability of Abdellah's testimony during his brief cross-examination, saying the witness was a Dutchman and not an Iraqi under the law, which bars citizens from being dual nationals. ``I leave it up to the court to decide, but this man isn't Iraqi,'' Saddam asserted.

The deposed leader also tried to rebuke the United States, accusing it of using chemicals in the Vietnam War. But the chief judge interrupted and told Saddam that his comments were not ``part of our topic of discussion. Please stop.''

Saddam also tried to explain how the Kurds were allied with Iran, but the judge again warned him: ``You embarrass me when you get into such details.''

When Saddam ignored the warning, the judge cut off his microphone.

Saddam's cousin, ``Chemical'' Ali al-Majid, argued that Iran, not Iraq, used chemicals against the Kurds.

The court later adjourned until Tuesday after another witness recounted further alleged atrocities committed by Saddam's regime against the Kurds.

The witness, Khunja Kaim Hassan, said her husband went missing and her house was destroyed in the offensive. She fled with her two sons and other relatives to a camp southeast of Baghdad.

``One of my sons, 9-year-old Salam, was forced to work for an officer for morning to night. He was a servant for him. He cleaned his dishes and clothes so that he would give him a piece of bread because my son was starving,'' said the woman, wearing the traditional Kurdish dress and turban.

She said that she saw a ``lot of people dying in the camp.''

A defense lawyer later said her husband died in 1985 and not in 1988, as the woman had testified. The chief judge ruled that the court will verify the date of her husband's death.