The comment came on Thursday after a Kurdish witness told the court how he had managed to meet the deposed Iraqi president to ask about the whereabouts of family members who he said were killed in the Anfal military campaign of 1987-1988.
Seated in the dock, Saddam asked: “Why did you try to meet me when you knew I was a dictator?”
The judge, Abdullah al-Ameri, then stepped in.
“You were not a dictator,” he said to Saddam, and then suggested that it was the people close to him who had made him look like one. Saddam thanked the judge for his intervention.
The latest exchange between Saddam and the judge is expected to further upset prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon, who on Wednesday demanded al-Ameri’s resignation, saying he was too lenient towards the defendants.
Al-Ameri, who has 25 years’ experience and was also a judge under the former government, dismissed the demand from al-Faroon, who charged that the judge was allowing defendants to even threaten witnesses and their lawyers.
On Tuesday, Saddam threatened one of the lawyers as he defended the struggle of the Kurdish guerrillas, or peshmerga [which in Kurdish means “those who face death”], against the old government.
Saddam thanked the judge for
At the outset of the trial, which opened on August 21, Saddam had also threatened al-Faroon after he charged that the deposed ruler’s forces had raped Iraqi women during the Anfal campaign.
Saddam accused him of being an agent of “Iranians and Zionists” and threatened to “crush his head”.
“If he says an Iraqi woman was raped in my era and he does not prove it, I will hunt him down for the rest of my life,” Saddam said.
Investigative judge Raed al-Juhi later downplayed al-Ameri’s comment. “In the court, many statements are made,” Juhi said after the trial was adjourned until next Monday.
“Anything not legal would not affect the issue and the court will continue with its neutrality. The judge is human after all,” he said, adding that under Iraqi law there were no legal grounds for the judge to step down as requested by the prosecutor.
Two witnesses testified on Thursday against Saddam and six co-defendants who face charges of mass murder of Kurds during the Anfal operations.
If found guilty, the defendants will face execution by hanging.
Witness Abdullah Mohammed Hussain told the court how he challenged Saddam in 1989 after he returned from Iran, where he had fled to avoid being arrested by Iraqi army which prosecutors claim to have killed 182,000 Kurds during the Anfal operation.
Taking the witness box, Hussain described the 1988 attacks on his northern village near Sulaimaniya and recounted his meeting with Saddam, which he said had materialised after repeated requests to the Iraqi military.
Saddam says the Anfal campaign was a counter-attack against rebels. “I told Saddam they [relatives] were arrested in our village,” Hussain said. “Saddam said …: ‘Shut up. Don’t say that they went missing in al-Anfal’.”
It was at this point that Saddam and the judge had their friendly exchange.
Hussain said he was later told in 2004 by the Sulaimaniya court that the ID cards of his relatives were found in a mass grave in Hathat, near the northern city of Mosul.
On Wednesday, four witnesses gave graphic testimonies against the accused.
Mass graves continue to yield
Witness Omar Othman Mohammed, a peshmerga fighter from Sulaimaniya, accused Ali Hassan al-Majid, dubbed Chemical Ali, of leading the attacks and using chemical bombs.
“He [Majid] killed a large number of our peshmergas, civilians and members of the opposition al-Dawa and communist parties,” he said, referring to a bomb attack on March 22, 1988.
“The warplanes hovered over the region and dropped balloons, apparently full of chemical weapons. Then missiles followed. A couple of them fell near my place. I saw headless bodies and parts of bodies, like arms and legs.”
Another witness, Sadoon Khider Gader, also gave a gruesome account of how dogs were set loose on prisoners killed in detention centres.
“They [the prisoners] were badly treated and those who died were carried by their mates outside” the detention centre and buried, said Gader, who lost his two sons. “We saw dogs eating them [the corpses] through the windows.”
Saddam has justified his government’s repression of the Kurds of northern Iraq as counter-insurgency measures. Kurdish rebels fought the Iraqi throughout the second half of the 20th century.