BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A witness told Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial on Tuesday that he survived a massacre by feigning death when Iraqi soldiers shot at Kurdish detainees lying at their feet.
The witness, who testified from behind a curtain to conceal his identity, said he was one of dozens of prisoners who were taken in buses to an execution site in western Iraq in April 1988 during the crackdown by Saddam’s regime on the Kurdish population.
Saddam, who listened quietly as the witness spoke, and six co-defendants are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in Operation Anfal, as the crackdown was called. The prosecution says some 180,000 Kurds were killed. Saddam and one other defendant are also charged with genocide.
The witness said the prisoners knew they were going to be shot when they arrived at the killing site near Ramadi because they heard gunfire. They said the Islamic prayers that are customary before death, asking for one’s sins to be forgiven. “The guards took two prisoners at a time from the bus, shot them dead and dragged their bodies to a huge ditch,” he said. “When it was my turn, I and my cousin, whom I asked to sit next to me so that we would be killed together, alighted from the bus, were blindfolded and handcuffed. I beseeched God to save me. The guards asked us to lie down on the ground and then they sprayed us with bullets. I felt no pain. I thought that maybe when the bullet pierces the body, one doesn’t feel the pain, but then I heard my cousin dying. We were pulled away by our legs. I pretended I was dead,” he said.
The witness did not explain how the guards could have missed him when they were shooting at point blank range and he was one of only two targets. He said the guards dumped him in a ditch where there were many other bodies. He removed his blindfold and saw a guard walking through the ditch shooting at people who were not yet dead. When night fell, the witness said, he crept out the ditch and walked for three days without food or water. Finally he found refuge in a Kurdish town in northern Iraq.