BAGHDAD (AP) â€” Kurds on Wednesday told of entire families killed in chemical weapons attacks against their villages in the 1980s, saying survivors plunged their faces into milk to end the pain from the blinding gas or fled into the hills on mules as military helicopters fired on them.
After hours of grim testimony in the genocide trial of Saddam Hussein, Chief Judge Abdullah Amiri adjourned until Septtmber 11 to consider defence appeals over the legitimacy of the tribunal.
Four survivors took the stand on the third day of proceedings against Saddam and six co-defendants over the Anfal campaign.
The offensive levelled hundreds of villages â€” many of them pounded by chemical weapons â€” with their residents herded into prison camps where many of the men disappeared and were executed, according to prosecutors.
Saddam and the other defendants largely sat silently as the survivors gave their accounts.
One survivor said he found the bodies of his brother, his nephew and his sister-in-law outside their home after a 1988 gas bombardment of the village of Ikmala in which his brother’s family was killed.
â€œOn the ground outside their house, my brother Saleh and his son Shaaban were on the ground dead, hugging each other, and a few metres away was my brother’s wife,â€ said Moussa Abdullah Moussa. â€œI can’t tell the feeling I had. Only the eye and heart that saw that can describe it.â€ The village was littered with dead birds and chickens, blood trickling from their beaks, and â€œvillagers were washing their faces with animals’ milk to alleviate the pain from the chemicals,â€ said Moussa, who acknowledged he was a member of the Kurdish guerrilla forces battling Saddam’s military at the time.
Bahiya Mostafa Mahmoud, a 52-year-old woman from the village of Sheikh Wasan, said her sister and the sister’s four children, along with six cousins, were killed by a 1987 chemical weapons attack. She described how the gas smelled like garlic as it spread over the village.
â€œI ask to be compensated. I had a family and home, and now I have nothing,â€ she said.
Also hit in the same bombardment was the nearby village of Balisan, where Badriya Said Khider said nine of her relatives were killed, including her parents, two brothers, husband and son.
Adiba Oula Bayez, another Balisan resident, said her daughter Narjis came running to her as a foul smoke rose from the bombardment, â€œcomplaining about pain in her eyes, chest and stomach. When I got close to see what’s wrong with her, she threw up all over me.â€ â€œWhen I took her in to wash her face … all my other children were throwing up,â€ the mother of five said. Bayez said the villagers fled to nearby caves on mules, â€œbut the helicopters came and bombed the mountains to prevent the villagers from taking refuge anywhere.â€ Like many villagers, she was blinded by the gas, she said.
In the caves, people were vomiting blood, many had burns.
â€œAll I knew was that I was holding tight my five children,â€ she said. â€œI couldn’t see, I couldn’t do anything, the only thing I did was scream, ‘don’t take my kids away from me.â€™â€ The villagers were taken by the military to a prison camp, and Bayez said four people kept in the same room with her died. On the fifth day in jail, she pried open her swollen eyes with her fingers to see, and â€œI saw my children’s’ eyes swollen, their skin blackened,â€ she said.
The survivors are testifying as plaintiffs in the case.
Asked by the judges whom she wished to file her complaint against, Bayez exclaimed, â€œI complain against Saddam Hussein, Ali Hassan Majid and everyone in the [defendants’] box. May God blind them all.â€ Saddam and Majid â€” his cousin, who led the Anfal operation and was nicknamed â€œChemical Aliâ€ for the use of poison gas attacks â€” are charged with genocide in the trial. They and the five other defendants also face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Saddam is still waiting a verdict on October 16 in the first case against him â€” the nine-month-long trial over the killings of 148 Shiites in a 1980s crackdown on the town of Dujail.
In that case as well, he and seven other co-defendants could face the death penalty.
The Anfal trial is likely to take months as well. The campaign was on a far greater scale than the Dujail crackdown, with anywhere from 50,000 to 180,000 Kurds killed.
So far, however, the three-day-old trial has seen none of the shouting and disruptions that plagued the Dujail trial and caused extensive delays. In the Dujail case, the tough Chief Judge Raouf Abdul-Rahman frequently shouted down Saddam and his top co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim and threw out several defendants or lawyers for causing disturbances.
Instead, the tone in the Anfal case has been civil and businesslike. Amiri has been conspicuously curteous to Majid, telling the 64-year-old former Baath official that he could remain seated while addressing the court, or even go to the hospital if he needed it.
â€œYou’re a human being, this is a humanitarian issue,â€ he told Majid, who has looked haggard in court and uses a cane.
At one point, when Majid stood to make a point about military service, Amiri complimented him, saying, â€œI’m sure you know better, you were in the know,â€ and Majid thanked him.
It was a stark contrast to Ibrahim, who had furious arguments with Abdul-Rahman during the Dujail trial and in several sessions showed up in court wearing only long-underwear to show his disdain for the tribunal.
Amid the dark testimony came a moment of levity, when one of the defence lawyers asked Mahmoud if she buys garlic for cooking. When she said yes, the lawyer declared, â€œyour honour, what she was smelling was the garlic in her own house,â€ not chemical weapons â€” bringing peals of laughter from the five-judge panel, the prosecutors and defence lawyers. Majid laughed, and Saddam â€” largely silent in the proceedings â€” cracked a smile.
The defence pressed the plaintiffs on whether Kurdish guerrillas were operating in the areas that were hit in the attacks â€” trying to back the defendants’ claims that Anfal did not target civilians but rather aimed to uproot the peshmerga, who Saddam’s regime said were helping Iranian forces during the bloody Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
On of the co-defendants, former military intelligence chief Sabir Douri, asked Moussa about an Iranian Revolutionary Guards base in the area of the attacks he described.
â€œThis is the first time I hear that there was a base for [Iranian] gaurds in my area. I have never seen or heard about such a thing,â€ Moussa insisted.