Saddam Hussein’s Kurdish genocide trial resumes after a 19-day break

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Two Iraqi Kurds who left their homeland for the United States after Saddam Hussein’s crackdown on the minority group testified Monday in the former dictator’s genocide trial, describing harrowing days of firing squads and mass graves.

Taimor Abdallah Rokhzai said he was 12 years old in 1988 when he, his family, eight cousins and Kurdish villagers were taken to a desert execution site to be killed.

“There was a trench. We were lined up. A soldier shot directly at us. I was hit on my shoulder,” said Rokhzai, now 30.

“The soldier kept firing at us. I saw my mother’s head scarf fall, my sisters and relatives were bleeding and then they all died,” Rokhzai said.

Saddam and his co-defendants have pleaded innocent to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from their role in a military crackdown on Iraq’s Kurd population in 1987-88. The prosecution says that about 180,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the campaign against the Kurds, which was code named Operation Anfal.

Saddam listened quietly during the testimony.

Rokhzai, who now lives in Washington, said that during the shooting, “I begged the soldier ‘We are women and children. Why are you shooting us?'” He did not say how the soldier reacted.

“I saw bullets hitting a woman’s head and her brain coming out. I saw a pregnant woman shot and killed. It was horrible,” he said through a Kurdish-Arabic interpreter.

“The shooting suddenly stopped. It was quiet. I was waiting to die. My whole body was covered with blood. The soldiers then went away. They were talking among themselves. I wanted to go to out from the trench. But a little girl asked me where I was going. I don’t know her name but she was alive,” he said.

Rokhzai said the girl was not wounded, but she refused to come with him as he left the trench. He said that as he walked away, he passed many trenches filled with bodies.

He kept on walking and that night he saw a tent with a light; the person inside sheltered him. He said he remained in hiding, moving from one village to another in northern Iraq, until 1991 when the Kurdish autonomous zone was established under the protection of U.S. and British forces.

Another witness, a former guerrilla fighter who now lives in Virginia, described something similar.

“Handcuffed and blindfolded, we (Kurdish detainees) were loaded into vehicles and taken to a remote area and dragged out,” said 37-year-old Yunis Haji. “I was pushed into a trench and was told to sit there. Suddenly, I was hit in the back. I fell unconscious, and when I woke up again, I pulled myself out of the trench and started running.”

During the hearing, chief judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa gave defense lawyers two days to submit a list of witnesses. “You already had 20 days. I will give you two more days. No more and no less,” he said.

On Nov. 5, an Iraqi court sentenced Saddam and two other senior members of his regime to death by hanging for ordering the execution of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims from the Iraqi city of Dujail following a 1982 attempt on Saddam’s life.

In the Kurdish case, Saddam and most of the defendants were represented by court-appointed lawyers as defense attorneys have been boycotting the trial for two months in protest against the court’s refusal to give them more preparation time and other rulings.

Saddam and one other defendant have pleaded innocent to the additional charge of genocide.

The trial adjourned until Tuesday.


Yacoub reported from Baghdad and Halaby from Amman, Jordan. Some material in the story came from a pool report at the trial in Baghdad.