Judge in Saddam trial deflects criticism


Associated Press Writer

The chief judge in Saddam Hussein's trial brushed aside prosecution demands to step down for letting the ousted president make political statements, as more witnesses on Wednesday told of chemical attacks against Kurds.

Chief prosecutor Minqith al-Faroon took offense at Saddam's remarks during Tuesday's session, when the ousted president lashed out at "agents of Iran and Zionism" and threatened to "crush the heads" of his accusers.

Saddam's remarks were directed at Kurdish witnesses who testified about chemical attacks and other atrocities during the government's Operation Anfal crackdown on the Kurds in the late 1980s.

"You allowed this court to become a political podium for the defendants," al-Faroon told Chief Judge Abdullah al-Amiri. "The action of the court leans toward the defendants. Therefore, I ask your honor to step down."

A lawyer for one of the Kurdish witnesses also told the court that Saddam "hurt our feelings" with his statements, which she said were "illegal and must be stopped." The lawyer's name was not made public because of court security rules.

Al-Amiri, a Shiite Arab, refused to step aside, arguing that a Muslim successor to the Prophet Muhammad allowed defendants to express their opinions. The judge said one of the "pillars of the judiciary is to treat everyone equally" and ordered the trial to continue.

Saddam and six others, including his cousin Ali "Chemical Ali" al-Majid, have been accused of genocide and other offenses in connection with the 1987-88 campaign to suppress a Kurdish revolt in northern Iraq.

The prosecution alleges that about 180,000 Kurds died — many of them civilians. Saddam and the others could face death by hanging if convicted.

Court treatment of Saddam has been a contentious issue in the other case against him — the killing of 148 Shiites following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in Dujail.

That trial was marked by frequent outbursts by Saddam and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim until the trial judge was replaced by a no-nonsense jurist, Raouf Abdul-Rahman, who threw out defendants and defense lawyers when he decided they were out of order. His tough line brought defense demands that Abdul-Rahman step down for bias against the defendants.

The courts in both trials appeared to be trying to balance respect for a former Iraqi president — even one alleged to have committed horrific crimes — with the need to maintain order and prevent Saddam from using the proceedings for propaganda, especially among his fellow Sunni Arabs at a time of rising sectarian tensions.

A verdict in the Dujail trial is expected on Oct. 16. Saddam could also receive a death sentence in that trial.

The Anfal trial was due to resume on Thursday.

Saddam has insisted that the crackdown against the Kurds was directed at rebellious Kurdish militias that were allied with Iran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. He maintains that his regime treated loyal Iraqi Kurds fairly.

On Wednesday, the court heard four witnesses testify about widespread chemical attacks against Kurdish villages. Several witnesses said they fled to Iran but returned after an amnesty decree — only to be rounded up, imprisoned and tortured.

"I fled to Iran with my family," farmer Saadoun Khudhir Qadir, 76, testified. "Eight months later, we heard there was an amnesty issued by Saddam. ... Upon our return, Iraqi authorities arrested us and put us in jail."

Another witness, Salah Qadir Amin, said his family also left Iran after hearing of an amnesty but ended up in prison.

"My father, mother, uncle, grandmother and two brothers, my other uncle were all in jailed in Irbil," he said as his voice choked with emotion. He said the identity cards of his mother and one brother were found in a mass grave near Sulaimaniyah but "they never found the rest.

The chief judge asked if he was seeking compensation.

"Nothing can compensate me for the loss of my parents and my family, who were killed without reason," Amin replied.

A self-described former Kurdish guerrilla, Omar Othman, said he received medical treatment in Iran and Germany after suffering chemical burns during an attack in March 1988.

Another witness, Hama Ahmed, told of attacks by Iraqi Sukhoi jets that dropped chemical weapons on his village in February 1988.

"Iraqi forces ransacked our village and took our animals," he said. "They took everything."

Saddam has accused the Kurdish witnesses of trying to sow ethnic division in Iraq by alleging chemical attacks and mass arrests in their villages.


AP correspondents Qais al-Bashir reported from Baghdad and Jamal Halaby from Amman, Jordan.

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