BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) – A Kurdish villager testified Tuesday he left behind his mother and two sisters as he fled a 1988 attack by Saddam Hussein’s forces. Years later, his relatives’ identity cards were found in a mass grave, he said.
“Congratulations! You are in a cage, Saddam,” witness Ghafour Hassan Abdullah said as he stared at the ousted president.
Saddam listened silently but lost his temper when a lawyer described Iraqi Kurdish rebels as freedom fighters. “You are agents of Iran and Zionism! We will crush your heads!” he shouted.
Saddam and six others are on trial for their roles in the 1987-88 campaign known as Operation Anfal, launched after a Kurdish revolt in northern Iraq during the final stages of the 1980-88 war with Iran. If convicted, the defendants could face death by hanging.
The trial was adjourned until Wednesday after the court heard four witnesses who implicated Saddam and his forces in gassing the Kurds and conducting mass arrests and killings of civilians.
Abdullah, 29, told the court that Iraqi planes gave cover to advancing ground troops, who shelled his village and other Kurdish communities in February 1988.
“At night, I heard the screaming of women and children,” he said. He said he fled to neighboring Iran, but that his mother and two sisters went missing. Years later, their ID cards were found in a mass grave near Hatra, he said.
Before the judge cut off his microphone, Saddam has insisted that the crackdown was directed against Kurdish guerrillas who were allied with Iran, said that “in any country in the world where there is rebellion, the authorities ask the army to defeat it.”
The prosecution demanded that Saddam’s statement be considered a confession, a request noted by the presiding judge.
During the session, Saddam also demanded “neutral” experts who were not Americans examine the identities of the witnesses and the bodies of people allegedly found in mass graves.
Tuesday’s session is the fifth since Saddam’s trial on genocide charges opened on Aug. 21.
Abdullah demanded compensation for the loss of his family and asked rhetorically why the Kurds, a non-Arab minority, were suppressed under Saddam’s regime.
“Why? Because we are Kurds. Why did all disasters befall on us? Because we are Kurds,” he said.
Another witness, Kurdish farmer Mahmoud Hama Aziz, said he lost a brother in fighting with Iraqi forces in 1987, months before their village was razed. Iraqi forces “stole everything in the village, then burned it down,” he said.
Aziz said he fled with two friends to the Iranian border, leaving behind a sister-in-law and her five children who later disappeared. In 2004, he identified bodies of four of them found in a mass grave in northern Iraq.
A third witness, Omar Khudhir Mohammed Amin, 53, said he lost 19 members of his family — including his four brothers and sisters and their children — in the offensive.
On Monday, Saddam accused Kurdish witnesses of trying to create ethnic divisions by alleging chemical attacks and mass arrests in their villages during the Anfal crackdown, which the prosecution says claimed up to 180,000 lives.
Saddam is awaiting an October verdict in the first case against him — the nine-month trial in the killings of 148 Shiites in Dujail. He and seven co-defendants also could face the death penalty in that case.