Saddam Begins Trial for Ordering Deaths of Thousands of Kurds
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PAUL EEDLE, ITV News Correspondent: It’s April 1989, and
Saddam Hussein is visiting the north of Iraq,
Kurdistan. Channel 4 News has obtained this
exclusive footage taken by one of the Iraqi president’s personal cameramen. It
shows Saddam looking on top of the world and Kurds desperate to reach him to
hand him petitions.
This woman has swum across the river with her plea in a
plastic bag. We don’t know exactly what — maybe a son missing, husband
arrested. Saddam graciously signs. He’s father of his people, approachable. “Here,
let me help you with your cloak.”
There was a reason for Saddam’s broad smile and the Kurds
desperation to ask favors: The year before, Saddam’s army had swept through Kurdistan in a campaign against Kurdish rebels, which
killed anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 men, women and children.
Saada Ali lost eight members of her family: her husband, two
sons, her daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren. Her house was bulldozed and
her livestock killed. With all her immediate family dead, she’s never been able
to rebuild her farm and now lives far from her village with an elderly
brother-in-law. She blames it all on Saddam.
SAADA ALI (through translator): Just like he destroyed my
life and killed my relatives, my hope and wish is that he ends up dead and
buried, as well. When I see these photos, I just cry. It’s just a piece of
paper. I can never see the boys or talk to them again.
PAUL EEDLE: This was the Anfal campaign. Anfal means
“spoils of war,” and it’s a chapter in the Koran about defeating
From February to September 1988, eight military operations
attacked areas where guerrillas fighting for Kurdish independence were
strongest. The campaign was led by Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, now on
trial alongside him.
Thousands of Kurds died in their villages, thousands more in
prison camps far away from Kurdistan, buried
in mass graves only uncovered after Saddam was overthrown in 2003. Chemical
Ali’s forces are accused of attacking villages with mustard gas and nerve gas
on at least 40 occasions.
Channel 4 News’ Iraqi news team reached Qeitoul, a village
at the heart of the third Anfal operation. It was a tough three-hour drive from
the regional capital, Sulaimaniya, across unmade roads to a farming community
that’s still dirt poor.
Hussein Abdullah Karim was a teenager when the Anfal hit
Qeitoul; now he’s the prayer leader of the mosque.
HUSSEIN ABDULLAH KARIM (through translator): On the morning
of 9th of April, 1988, the people woke up and found the army all over these
hills. There were seven helicopters. The people started realizing what was
going on. The tanks arrived at the village by 11:00 a.m. The villagers started
fleeing. The army then started burning and destroying the village.
Genocide of Kurds
PAUL EEDLE: Jalal Jabbar Amin (ph) was working away from home. An uncle working at a hospital in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, tipped him off that the army was heading for Qeitoul, and he hurried for home. He got as far as the village of Kader Karam (ph), where the army and a pro-government Kurdish militia called the Jash had gathered scores of men, arrested as suspected guerrillas.
Families were allowed to visit the detainees for three days. Then they were trucked away and never seen again.
JALAL JABBAR AMIN (ph) (through translator): This is Jamal, my eldest son. I saw him in the police station in Kader Karam (ph). He was with my other kids. I kissed them all. He used to tell me, "We don't know what's going on or what our fate will be, but please save us."
This is Kamal (ph), my second son. His wife and five of his children were "Anfalized." They are missing.
PAUL EEDLE: Three of Jalal's six sons were taken away and killed. This is where the army bulldozed their houses. And here was Jalal's brother's house. He says his brother and 10 members of his family were killed. There used to be 150 families in this village, today just 45.
Saada Ali was living in the nearby village of Darawar that April. The army rounded up the villagers and took them to a prison in Kirkuk, the nearest big town. She said the men were taken to one side and stripped of everything they had on, watches, shoes, even clothes. Three days later, they were all moved to a fortress at Nugra Salman in the desert far to the southwest.
SAADA ALI (through translator): They tortured us. They tortured us a lot. They had these iron bars, which they would tie us to and beat us severely until we would collapse.
The worst was what they did to us every morning. We would be taken outside into a field, and we were in the middle of the desert. They would force us to stand facing the sun, and we would stand there all day until sunset, turning to face the sun throughout the day so that the sun was always be in our eyes. They wouldn't even give us a glass of water.
One night, they took all our children, especially the little girls. Three or four hours later, they brought them back. You can't imagine how hard that was for my husband and I. You didn't know what those soldiers were capable of.
PAUL EEDLE: It's testimony like this that Saddam will have to listen to in court over the coming weeks. But when he visited Kurdistan in 1989, he was proud of the Anfal. Judging by today's proceedings, Saddam and his cousin's defense will be that they were simply fighting an anti-insurgent campaign, much as American and Iraqi forces are now in Sunni-Muslim areas of Iraq.