Survivors of poisonous gas attacks testify in genocide trial of Saddam Hussein
BAGHDAD, Iraq – 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, the chief judge Abdullah al-Amiri adjourned until Sept. 11 to consider defense 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, a massive military assault in northern Iraq in which tens of thousands of Kurds were killed. The offensive leveled hundreds of villages – many struck by chemical weapons – 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.The defense pressed the plaintiffs on whether Kurdish guerrillas were operating in the areas that were hit in the attacks. Two of Saddam’s co-defendants have insisted that Anfal did not target civilians but aimed only to wipe out fighters they said were helping Iran as the two countries waged war in the 1980s.One survivor, who acknowledged he was a member of the guerrilla force whose fighters are known as peshmerga, 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.”On the ground outside their house, my brother Saleh and his son Shaaban were on the ground dead, hugging each other, and a few meters (yards) away was my brother’s wife,” said Moussa Abdullah Moussa. “I can’t tell the feeling I had. Only the eye and heart that saw that can describe it.”The village was littered with dead birds and chickens, blood trickling from their beaks, and “villagers were washing their faces with animals’ milk to alleviate the pain from the chemicals,” said Moussa.One of the co-defendants, former military intelligence chief Sabir al-Douri, asked Moussa about an Iranian Revolutionary Guards base in the area of the attacks he described.”This is the first time I hear that there was a base for (Iranian) guards in my area. I have never seen or heard about such a thing,” Moussa insisted.Bahiya Mostafa Mahmoud, a 52-year-old woman from the village of Sheik 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.”I ask to be compensated. I had a family and home, and now I have nothing,” 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, “complaining 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.””When I took her in to wash her face … all my other children were throwing up,” she said. Bayez said the villagers fled to nearby caves on mules, “but the helicopters came and bombed the mountains to prevent the villagers from taking refuge anywhere.”She was blinded by the gas as were many others, she said, adding that in the caves, people were vomiting blood, many had burns. “All I knew was that I was holding tight my five children,” she said. “I couldn’t see, I couldn’t do anything, the only thing I did was scream, ‘Don’t take my kids away from me.”‘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 “I saw my children’s’ eyes swollen, their skin blackened,” 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, “I complain against Saddam Hussein, Ali Hassan al-Majid and everyone in the (defendants’) box. May God blind them all.”Saddam and al-Majid – his cousin who led the Anfal operation and was nicknamed “Chemical Ali” for the use of poison gas attacks – 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 awaiting a verdict on Oct. 16 in the first case against him – the 9-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 campaign was on a far greater scale than the Dujail crackdown, with death toll estimates ranging from 50,000 to 180,000 Kurds.But unlike the Dujail trial, which was characterized by defense outbursts and shouting matches, the tone in the Anfal case has been civil and businesslike. Al-Amiri has been conspicuously courteous to al-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.”You’re a human being, this is a humanitarian issue,” he told al-Majid, who has looked haggard in court and uses a cane.When al-Majid stood to make a point about military service, al-Amiri complimented him, saying, “I’m sure you know better, you were in the know,” and al-Majid thanked him.In a lighter moment, a defense lawyer asked Mahmoud if she buys garlic for cooking. When she said yes, the lawyer declared, “Your honor, what she was smelling was the garlic in her own house,” not chemical weapons – bringing peals of laughter from the five-judge panel, the prosecutors and defense lawyers. Al-Majid laughed, and Saddam – largely silent in the proceedings – cracked a smile.
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