For a second day, survivors took the stand in the Iraqi court, in which the former president and six co-defendants are charged over the 1987-1988 Anfal campaign, a military sweep against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.
Saddam and his co-defendants deny the charges and accuse the court of being illegitimate and established by their political opponents.
They are arguing through their defence teams that there was no genocide, and blame the attacks on Iranians. The Iran-Iraq war was still being fought at the time.
Adiba Oula Bayez described the bombardment of her village of Balisan in August 1987, saying warplanes dropped bombs that spread a smoke that smelled “like rotten apples”.
Saddam’s defence team says the
“Then my daughter Narjis came to me, complaining about pain in her eyes, chest and stomach. When I got close to see what’s wrong with her, she threw up all over me,” Bayez, a mother of five, said.
“When I took her in to wash her face … all my other children were throwing up.
“Then my condition got bad, too. And that’s when we realised that the weapon was poisonous and chemical.”
Bayez said the villagers fled to nearby caves on mules, “but the helicopters came and bombed the mountains to prevent the villagers from taking refuge anywhere”.
Like many villagers, she was blinded by the gas, she said. In the caves, people were vomiting blood, many had burns.
“All I knew was that I was holding tight my five children,” she said. “I could not see, I could not do anything, the only thing I did was scream, ‘Do not take my kids away from me’.”
The villagers were taken by the military to a prison camp, and Bayez said four people kept in the same room with her died. On the fifth day in jail, she pried open her swollen eyes with her fingers to see, and “I saw my children’s’ eyes swollen, their skin blackened”, she said.
Another witness from Belisand, Badriya Said Khidr, said she had lost nine members of her family in the attack – including her husband, son, father and mother – and she still suffers from the after-effects.
“I can’t speak. I am breathless,” she said. “I want the court to treat Saddam as he treated us.”
A third woman, Bahiya Mustafa Mahmoud, also described a gas attack, and told the court that she had lost her husband during Anfal.
Complaint against Saddam
The survivors are testifying as plaintiffs in the case. Asked by the judges whom she wished to file her complaint against, Bayez exclaimed: “I complain against Saddam Hussein, Ali Hassan al-Majid and everyone in the [defendants’] box. May God blind them all.”
The defendants may be hanged if convicted in the Anfal case.
Saddam and his cousin, al-Majid, a Baath Party leader who allegedly organised Anfal, are charged with genocide – considered the toughest charge to prove since its requires showing that their intention was to exterminate part of an ethnic group.
Saddam and al-Majid also face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, as do their co-defendants, most of whom are former military figures.
The case has been adjouned until September 11 at the request of the defence.
Saddam is still awaiting a verdict in the first case against him, the killings of 148 Shia in al-Dujail in the 1980s. In that case as well, he and seven other co-defendants may face the death penalty.