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Kurdish survivor recalls climbing from mass grave

November 01, 2006|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The night before, guards separated men from women, children from adults before reading a list of names "like the day of judgment." As morning broke, soldiers loaded those who had been called onto windowless buses, taking them to the desert.

The Kurdish detainees were tied, blindfolded and their identification papers seized. Then the guards opened fire.

"All around us was dirt and smoke," the witness recalled Tuesday, testifying in the genocide trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "At first I thought I was hit but [that] I just didn't feel it."

The Kurdish man, whose name was withheld by the court to protect him, took the stand in Baghdad to recount how he feigned death to escape.

Thrown into a mass grave along with his cousin, he kept still among the dead and dying even as an officer came down into the trench, shooting those who were still moving. After night fell, the witness said, he was able to climb out of the pit and flee the killing fields.

Tuesday's accounts by five witnesses echoed previous testimony in the trial.

Hussein and six codefendants face charges in the deaths of tens of thousands of Kurds by firing squad and chemical warfare during a campaign in the late 1980s known as the Anfal, or "spoils of war." Though the stated goal of the campaign was to suppress an uprising by Kurdish rebels, most of the victims were civilians.

Bafreen Mohammed, 39, described an aerial attack on her village that she said killed her 7-year-old son and blinded her.

Although the testimony has been dramatic, the proceedings have seen fewer outbursts than the previous trial of Hussein, which involved the 1980s deaths of 148 Shiite Muslims from the village of Dujayl. However, the entire defense team walked out of the current trial in September, to protest the removal of a judge.

Hussein's lawyer briefly returned to the courtroom Monday after a monthlong absence but left again after an argument with the new judge, Mohammed Orabi Khalefa.

In the Dujayl case, Hussein and seven codefendants are to be sentenced Sunday and could face death by hanging. The lead prosecutor says sentencing might be postponed.

The Anfal trial was adjourned until Tuesday.

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