Graphic ‘gas attack’ video shown at Saddam trial

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Graphic video footage of villagers fleeing or falling dead from what prosecutors called a chemical attack against Kurdish civilians was shown at Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial on Tuesday.

The grainy video, shot over various days in April 1987 and May 1988, showed helicopters flying low over the mountains, villagers frantically fleeing in trucks, refugees on foot, white smoke and women gathered near tents, crying.

“Where are the terrorists they wanted to kill?” demanded prosecutor Munqith Faroon, pointing at the video and images of civilians he said were targeted by Saddam’s ousted regime.

Footage showed civilian corpses lying rigid on fields and the stiff body of a dead baby, mouth open, being lifted onto a truck by survivors.

“These were different shots of what was called ‘population centres’ of the victims of chemical bombing,” Faroon told the court, naming neither the villages nor the source of the footage.

“The video proved the use of the chemical weapons against the Kurds — women, children and men… How can they [the defendants] defend themsleves in front of God?” charged another lawyer representing Kurdish victims.

Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan Majid, who like Saddam is charged with genocide, described the footage as “painful” but blamed Iran and villagers who “sided with the enemy” during Iraq’s devastating 1980-88 war with its eastern neighbour.

Iran occupied most of the northern areas, Majid charged, leaving him with two options, “either to leave it for the enemy or fight”.

So he decided to fight in the same way he “fought the United States”, insisted Majid, dubbed “Chemical Ali” for his role in the attacks.

During the lengthy court session, the prosecution presented Iraqi government memos for a second day running that it charged linked the defendants to chemical attacks, and to the recommendation and use of “special ammunition”.

Saddam, who has already been sentenced to death at a previous trial for the execution of 148 Shiite civilians, sat in the dock with his six co-defendants in the courtroom inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.

The defendants are accused of killing 182,000 Kurds in the late 1980s when government troops allegedly suppressed a Kurdish uprising by using artillery, air strikes, death camps and poison gas attacks.

They insist that the 1988 Anfal campaign was a legitimate counterinsurgency operation against Kurdish separatists at a time when Iraq was at war with Iran.

An April 30, 1988 document, signed by defendant Sabir Duri, then director of military intelligence, and addressed to the Saddam-era presidency, said a “special weapon” had been used in the Anfal operation, the prosecutor said.

A secret, urgent memo signed by Duri and dispatched to top generals, listed the body count under the title “results of the Anfal operation”.

“There were 1,200 casualties of those who were killed and injured by the special weapon and strikes,” the prosecutor read.

Duri responded at length, denying responsibility for the chemical attack and distancing himself and military intelligence from the Anfal operation.

“Intelligence was in charge of getting information, investigating it and sending the results of military operations to commanders,” he said. He insisted he was unable to confirm whether documents with his signature had indeed been issued by him until seeing the original copy and that anyway he could not remember what he issued 20 years ago.

“Approval was taken to hit the enemy with special weapons,” said yet another in a string of documents, which the prosecution said had been sent by Saddam’s presidency to the defence ministry and special security. The prosecution also charged that a Dutch man, Frans van Anraat, who apparently managed to escape from CIA arrest, married and divorced a Palestinian woman in Iraq, provided the regime with chemical weapons.

Anraat “provided great services to the country by providing the country’s institutions and the military industry with chemical and rare materials”, and he was rewarded with Iraqi ID and a passport, the memo said.

The trial is scheduled to resume on Wednesday.

Saddam has already been sentenced to death a month ago for his role in the execution of 148 Shiites in revenge for an assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail in 1982.

His lawyers have filed an appeal against the sentence that he be hanged.

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