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Hussein Accuses His Accusers of Trying to Divide Nation

The ex-leader says Kurds testifying in his genocide trial are `trying to create strife' between Iraqis.

September 12, 2006|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Saddam Hussein, standing trial on genocide charges, used his courtroom time Monday to urge Iraqis to resist forces he said were trying to divide the country.

"Iraqis will not split," an agitated Hussein said.

The former president's comments, which included references to an ongoing controversy over the Iraqi national flag, came on a day of continued sectarian violence.

At least 40 people were killed in shootings and bombings, most of them in Baghdad, authorities said. At least 16 people were killed in a suicide bombing at an army recruitment center in the capital.

In the trial, which is taking place in a heavily guarded palace in Baghdad's Green Zone, three witnesses testified about chemical attacks in Kurdistan in the late 1980s that left people blinded and maimed.

"All the witnesses said in the courtroom that they were oppressed because they were Kurds," Hussein said.

"They're trying to create strife between the people of Iraq. They're trying to create division between Kurds and Arabs, and this is what I want the people of Iraq to know."

Hussein and six former aides are on trial before the Iraqi Special Tribunal. They are charged with killing as many as 100,000 Kurds during a 1988 military offensive known as the Anfal campaign. If convicted, Hussein could face the death penalty. It is the second capital case against Hussein.

An earlier trial focused on the alleged involvement of the former Iraqi leader and seven codefendants in the slayings of 148 Shiites after a 1982 assassination attempt on Hussein in the village of Dujayl. A verdict is expected in October.

Katrin Michael, 56, a former Kurdish fighter who lives in Virginia, where she works as a writer and editor, testified about two Iraqi air force bombings in 1987 and '88 in Kurdistan. In the first attack, she said, the Iraqi military used chemical weapons.

Michael, who wore a tailored suit and her hair uncovered, described the pungent smell of the chemical weapons as being like "garlic and apple." In slow and deliberate testimony, she echoed previous accounts by Kurdish villagers and laid blame for the massacres on the defendants and those who supplied them with weaponry.

Michael said that after the attack on June 5, 1987, she fled to the mountains with other Kurds, bringing a Kalashnikov rifle. Many Kurds had been blinded by the attack.

"I saw hundreds of people -- not dozens, but hundreds -- and they were vomiting with tears coming out of their eyes," Michael said.

Once in the mountains, she visited a badly injured victim, Abu Rizgar.

"His words were heavy," she said, describing the effects of the chemical weapons. "He couldn't speak properly. His voice is still in my ears."

Rizgar, whose back was covered with blisters, died later that day, she said.

Michael said she blamed not only Hussein and his cousin and codefendant Ali Hassan Majid, nicknamed Chemical Ali, but also "every international organization and international company who supplied the Iraq regime with these weapons." She said all of them should compensate the victims.

At the time of the Anfal campaign, Hussein's government enjoyed wide support from the West that included weapons sales to Iraq.

A United Nations measure to condemn the campaign as genocide failed, and President George H.W. Bush vetoed a Senate resolution urging sanctions.

"Chemical weapons used to be dropped regularly," Michael said. "It was genocide."

At one point in the trial, the judge admonished a defense lawyer because he referred to Hussein as "president."

Hussein replied: "The Americans -- the enemies of Iraq -- took this title from me. Some Iraqis still consider me the president."

His microphone was cut off.

A short while later, Hussein asked to speak for "two minutes."

He used the time to comment on the flag controversy, which began Sept. 2, when Kurdistan regional President Massoud Barzani banned the Iraqi flag from local government buildings and functions in the semiautonomous region.

Barzani's decree prompted outrage from Sunni Arabs, who said the Kurdish leader was trying to divide the country.

"This flag behind you," Hussein told the presiding judge, a Shiite, "we inherited it. I did not create it. I, Saddam Hussein, just inserted the words between the stars," he said, referring to the phrase "God is great," which he added after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Toward the end of the day, Hussein questioned a witness, arguing that the trial was meant to divide Iraq. When the judge asked him to be quiet, Hussein lost his temper.

"Don't you know how many insults were spoken here today?" he yelled. "The whole point is to create a split between the Arabs and the Kurds."

The judge responded, "Iraq won't be divided."

Hussein countered: "Of course not. Iraq is not 50 years old or 200 years old. It's 9,000 years old."

The trial was adjourned until today.

*

louise.roug@latimes.com

Times staff writer Saif Rasheed contributed to this report.

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