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In Iraq, Kurd-slaughter case moves to courtroom

Hussein lashes out at 2d war-crimes trial

BAGHDAD -- A defiant Saddam Hussein refused to enter a plea on genocide charges and dismissed the court as illegitimate as his second trial began yesterday in a case prosecutors said will expose the widescale killings of tens of thousands of Kurds nearly two decades ago.

Prosecutors showed the court photos of women and children found in mass graves left from a 1987-1988 scorched-earth military assault known as Operation Anfal. One showed a dead infant who still had his milk bottle with him.

``It's time for humanity to know . . . the magnitude and scale of the crimes committed against the people of Kurdistan," lead prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon said in his opening statement.

``Entire villages were razed to the ground, as if killing the people wasn't enough," he said. ``Wives waited for their husbands, families waited for their children to return -- but to no avail."

The trial is the second for Hussein in connection with alleged atrocities during his regime. The verdict from the first trial -- on the killings of 148 Shi'ites in the town of Dujail in the 1980s after an alleged assassination attempt against Hussein-- is not expected until Oct. 16.

Hussein could face execution by hanging if convicted in either case.

Iraqi Kurds were transfixed, seeing the Anfal case as a chance for vengeance against a leader whose regime persecuted their community.

More than 1,000 survivors and relatives of the Anfal victims held a demonstration in the northern city, demanding death for Hussein. Some wept as they recalled the tragedy; others expressed happiness that he was being tried.

Hussein wore a black suit and white shirt as he did throughout the nine-month Dujail trial, and sat in the same courtroom, in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

But around him, the cast of characters had largely changed, including a new chief judge, Abdullah al-Amiri -- a 54-year-old Shi'ite who was a judge under Hussein's regime for 25 years.

In contrast to the chief judge in the Dujail case, Raouf Abdul-Rahman -- a Kurd who frequently barked at defendants and sneered during arguments -- Amiri was soft-spoken and shouted only once to tell two defendants to sit down when they stood in respect for Hussein.

Hussein also had six new codefendants who were almost all former military figures, in contrast to the seven former intelligence and Ba'ath Party officials on trial with him in the Dujail case.

Chief among them was his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, 64, who allegedly led the operation and became known as ``Chemical Ali" for the use of poison gas.

Hussein showed the same challenge to the tribunal that he displayed throughout the Dujail proceedings, and his lawyers raised motions that the court was illegitimate, although the session was generally calmer than those held in the previous case.

Asked to give his name for the record, the 69-year-old Hussein replied, ``You know me" -- then he denounced the court as following ``the law of the occupation."

Finally, he identified himself as ``the president of the republic and commander in chief of the armed forces," maintaining his insistence that he is still Iraq's leader, despite his overthrow by US-led forces in April 2003 .

Asked for his plea on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, he said, ``That would require volumes of books." Amiri ordered a plea of innocent entered into the record.

The genocide charge, which Hussein did not face in the Dujail trial, is considered difficult to prove. Under the statute of the special tribunal trying regime crimes, it requires showing that the defendant aimed to ``abolish, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group."

Faroon and the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Moussawi, outlined their case that Hussein was trying to wipe out the Kurds. Prosecutors said one government decree ordered the execution of all people between the ages of 15 and 70 in Kurdish areas. Thousands of villages were leveled and their inhabitants either killed or herded into prisons or collective villages, they said.

``The goal of the operations was clear -- to target the people of Kurdistan with killing, forced migration, persecution," Moussawi said. ``There are many other crimes that would make one cringe, such as the rapes the young girls were subjected to by the guards."

In one of the few outbursts, Hussein became furious over the rape allegations.

``I can never accept the claim that an Iraqi woman was raped while Saddam is president," he shouted .

Hussein's regime launched the Anfal offensive in an attempt to stamp out Kurdish guerrillas who had ties to Iran. The two neighboring countries fought an eight-year war that ended in 1988.

Estimates of the death toll from Anfal have ranged widely. Human Rights Watch put the low estimate at 50,000, while prosecutors said yesterday that there were more than 180,000 victims.

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