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Atrocities Serve as Evidence in Saddam Trial

January 24, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWYNNE ROBERTS: This man is on a sensitive mission. He is investigating the case of thousands of Kurds who disappeared 22 years ago, never to be heard of again. He is Dr. Mohammed Ihsan, Kurdish minister for human rights. The case which Dr. Ihsan is putting together is a vital part of the indictment against Saddam Hussein. But this case is particularly significant. All the missing men and boys were members of one powerful Kurdish clan, the Barzanis.

The search for the missing Barzanis was authorized by Masoud Barzani, clan leader and now president for the Kurdish region. He lost 37 members of his own family. The attack on the Barzani clan followed his decision to side with Iran against Iraq in the early 1980s.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Of course, at the time, there was the Iran-Iraq war. Our fight with Iraq started before and continued after.

GWYNNE ROBERTS: During the war, his partisan army played an important role in the conflict, helping to pin down the Iraqi army in the North.

Saddam never forgave him. He took his revenge on innocent Barzani civilians who were living in government camps like this one.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Even if we did help Iran, those Barzani civilians were not responsible for our policy.

LITTLE GIRL SINGING (Translated): I hope to hold a gun, among the soldiers and advance, to hear the victory songs, and the raising of flags.

GWYNNE ROBERTS: Just one month after the Barzani Kurds were taken, Saddam admitted publicly his regime was involved in their disappearance.

DR. MOHAMMED IHSAN: This is September 1983. This was broadcast all over Iraq and recorded off-air at that time. It establishes Saddam’s guilt beyond doubt. (Applause)

SADDAM HUSSEIN (Translated): The Barzanis spread their treachery to other families. They are involved in this crime, and became guides for the Persian Army, and helped them occupy Iraqi land. Some, who were called Barzanis, cooperated with them. So, they’ve been severely punished, and have gone to hell. (Applause)

DR. MOHAMMED IHSAN: Saddam’s abduction of the Barzanis was the precursor of his infamous Anfal campaign, when his forces attacked Kurdish villages, often using poison gas.

Dr. Ihsan is launching an expedition from Arbil in northern Iraq to the southern deserts near the Saudi border. He is looking for crucial forensic evidence in the case against Saddam: The bodies of the missing Barzanis.

It’s a dangerous journey even at the outset. This week, 43 Shia travelers were executed along this road. It’s controlled by al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes operating in groups of up to 100 strong. They prey on traffic jams, and Dr. Ihsan orders his drivers not to stop at any cost.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Don’t delay! When you hear me, answer!

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Yes, brother.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Be careful, be careful!

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Azad, be careful! Watch both sides!

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Okay. Okay.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): On the left, on the left.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Be careful, be careful.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): Try not to leave the line.

GWYNNE ROBERTS: After traveling nearly 300 miles southwest of Baghdad, we reach a remote desert fortress, Nugra Salman.

Thousands of Kurds, imprisoned here during the Anfal campaign, are said to have died of thirst, starvation and torture. The Barzanis were apparently held at Nugra before being moved deeper into the desert.

Dr. Ihsan’s investigation has revealed that the Barzanis were executed in the Bussia region about five hours drive southeast of the prison. And it’s to there the convoy heads. He is looking for eyewitnesses who can lead him to their graves.

Bussia, the last Iraqi outpost before the Saudi border, and a village known to have been once run by Saddam’s secret police. It is inhabited mainly by the Sunni Jasham tribe, once amongst Saddam’s closest supporters.

This is a region where distrust runs deep between the Sunnis and local Shia. The Shias are helpful, but the local Sunnis are not cooperating with Dr. Ishan’s search. He arranges a meeting with the Sunni elders in Bussia to try to buy their assistance. He suspects that they once worked closely with Saddam’s secret police and know the exact location of the Barzani graves.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): I promise I can give a big reward to anyone who can help us find where they’re buried. I can tell that you are hospital and generous in spirit.

GWYNNE ROBERTS: The question now is, will money break their silence?

SPOKESMAN: $800 just for that guy who was helping us till now, and $500 for the guide who said, “I will help you.” $400 for another guide, and $400 for the guide to go back to Nasyria to get the tanker driver.

GWYNNE ROBERTS: Next day, two Sunni bounty hunters come forward to claim their share of the reward.

SPOKESMAN (Translated): This is the right way.

GWYNNE ROBERTS: The bounty hunters lead us to Abu Jid, a Bedouin encampment in the middle of nowhere. They say they are convinced the Barzanis were executed and buried here. But our bulldozer finds nothing. Dr. Ihsan’s investigation, which has lasted 14 years, seems to have come to nothing.

But five months later, Dr. Ihsan is called back to Bussia. His Shia contacts finally locate three mass graves.

SPOKESMAN: You can see that he has been blindfolded. I think this is another male that has been blindfolded before killing.

GWYNNE ROBERTS: All of this will now be used as evidence in Saddam’s trial in Baghdad.