BAGHDAD (AFP) â€” Iraqi forces were told to cooperate with their Turkish counterparts during a 1980s campaign against Kurdish civilians, according to evidence presented Thursday to a court trying Saddam Hussein.
Prosecutors seeking to prove that the ousted Iraqi leader ordered the slaughter of 182,000 Kurdish civilians in the 1988 Anfal campaign produced a series of Iraqi military documents during the day’s hearing.
One was sent to the commanders of the 1st and 5th Corps of the Iraqi Army on August 21, 1988 and ordered them to carry out “heavy special strikes before starting the project to create a condition of panic among the citizens”.
Prosecutors have previously said that the term “special strikes” in Iraqi documents refers to the use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas or sarin.
The document, signed by Iraqi chief of staff Nazar Abdul Kareem Faisal, insisted: “There must be full destruction of saboteurs in the northern area.” And, in a revelation likely to stir anger among Kurdish survivors, the memo orders the Iraqi officers “to cooperate with the Turkish side, according to the cooperation protocol with them to chase all the refugees”.
No detail was given of the alleged agreement between Turkey and Iraq.
Ankara has long opposed the idea of an independent Kurdish homeland in northern Iraq, but it has never been proved that Turkey cooperated with Saddam’s forces during Anfal, which prosecutors describe as a genocide.
While the document touching on Turkish links was read out, sound was cut off to trial reporters and no discussion of the memo could be heard, although the Arabic-language document could still be read on the court screens.
Saddam and six co-defendants are accused of killing 182,000 Kurds between 1987 and 1988, when government troops allegedly suppressed a Kurdish uprising by using artillery, air strikes, death camps and poison gas attacks.
They insist the so-called Anfal campaign was a legitimate counterinsurgency operation against Kurdish separatists at a time when Iraq was at war with Iran.
At one point, defendant Hussein Rashid Al Tikriti, Saddam’s deputy chief of operations for the armed forces, angrily interrupted proceedings, dismissing the idea that he was responsible for the use of “special ammunition”.
“I was deputy commander. Deputy commander is not the one responsible in any army… Did I sign this?” he said, referring to one memo given in evidence.
“Is my name on it? If my name is there, I will sign my execution warrant myself. I am only afraid of God. If God wants me to die, I will die.” Judge Mohammad Al Oreibi sought to appease him. “You are an old man, we want you to calm down. If you deny something, just say it,” he said.
But chief prosecutor Munqith Al Faroon remained unmoved.
“This is the first time in history that we see the army of a country using chemical weapons against its own population. He is deputy commander. Of course there is a supply directory, but who is in charge?” said Faroon.
“It is not only about chemical weapons. This is also about mass graves, destroying villages, civilians, people,” the prosecutor added.
Co-defendant Sultan Hashim Al Tai, the commander of the Anfal task force and once defence minister, took up the slack to deliver his own impassioned speech in the name of self-defence.
“I didn’t use a special weapon,” he insisted, asking the court to remember that the Anfal campaign took place during the Iran-Iraq war when the “enemy” occupied much of the country and were supported by so-called saboteurs.
“Put yourself in my shoes. I had this order and we were at war. What were my choices? Carry out orders? I am on trial here. Not carrying out orders would have meant being court-martialled. I am a dead man already,” Hashim added.
But the prosecution ridiculed his claims that civilians were merely transferred out of fighting zones to homes in the northern city of Kirkuk.
“Where did the people in the mass graves come from?” the prosecutor demanded. “We have seen documents. We have seen videos. Do what you want to do? Believe the documents and the videos or believe him?”
Iraq’s former strongman was 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.
A panel of appeal court judges is reviewing the verdict.