BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) -Saddam Hussein returned to court Tuesday for his genocide trial, two days after another panel convicted him of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to hang.
Saddam, smiling faintly and dressed in a black suit with white shirt, found his way quietly to his seat among the other six defendants charged in the Operation Anfal crackdown against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s.
The chief judge then convened the session and called the first witness, Qahar Khalil Mohammed.
On Sunday, another five-judge panel convicted Saddam in the deaths of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail in 1982.
He and two others were sentenced to death by hanging. Four co-defendants received lesser sentences and one was acquitted.
The Anfal trial will continue while an appeal in the Dujail case is under way. The prosecution says about 180,000 Kurds, most of them civilians, were killed in the crackdown in 1987-88.
On Tuesday, Mohammed told the court that he and other men from his village surrendered to Iraqi soldiers after being promised that Saddam had issued an amnesty for them.
Instead, the 33 men were lined up at the bottom of a hill and soldiers opened fire on them.
“When they fired in our direction, we all fell to the ground,” he said.
Mohammed said he was wounded but survived and managed to get away.
“When I went back, I saw my father and two brothers had been killed, as well as 18 of my relatives,” he testified.
On Monday, the chief prosecutor in the Dujail case said a nine-judge appeals panel was expected to rule on Saddam’s guilty verdict and death sentence by the middle of January. That could set in motion a possible execution by mid-February.
Iraqi authorities imposed a lockdown on Baghdad and surrounding provinces in anticipation of the Sunday verdict. Those measures were lifted Monday after a feared surge in violence failed to materialize, although there were pro-Saddam rallies throughout Sunni Muslim areas of the country.
Shiites and Kurds, who suffered terribly under Saddam’s rule, hailed the sentence as just.
If the appeals court upholds the sentences, all three members of the Presidential Council — President Jalal Talabani and Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashimi and Adil Abdul-Mahdi — must sign death warrants before executions can be carried out.
Talabani said Monday that although he opposes capital punishment, his signature is not needed to carry out Saddam’s death sentence. Talabani, a Kurd, has permanently authorized Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, to sign on his behalf. Abdul-Mahdi has said he would sign Saddam’s death warrant, meaning two of three signatures were assured.
Al-Hashimi, the other vice president and a Sunni, gave his word that he also would sign a Saddam death sentence as part of the deal under which he got the job April 22, according to witnesses at the meeting, which was attended by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
“We wanted a written promise before the first meeting of the new parliament. But later and during a meeting in the presence of American and British ambassadors and other politicians, the promise became oral in which he vowed not to oppose important rules and laws — especially those related to Saddam,” Deputy Parliament Speaker Khaled al-Attiyah told the AP.