By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
BAGHDAD, Nov. 7 -- A subdued Saddam Hussein returned to his Kurdish genocide trial in Baghdad on Tuesday, two days after another court sentenced him to death for war crimes, and in an unusually conciliatory moment called for the people of war-torn Iraq to forgive one another.
Hussein, 69, was sentenced on Sunday to hang for the killings of 148 Shiite men and boys from the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, in the 1980s. The sentence, which sparked a long, vitriolic outburst from Hussein, is being appealed while the former dictator continues to stand trial in another case involving the deaths of as many as 100,000 Kurds, many in poison gas attacks, in the so-called Anfal campaign of 1987-88.
Hussein, in his trademark, ill-fitting charcoal gray suit and open-collared white shirt, took an active role in his trial Tuesday, minus the theatrical bluster and tirades that have marked many of his other court appearances.
After one witness testified that Hussein had said all Kurds were saboteurs, Hussein raised a finger to ask a question.
"Saddam Hussein has written more than 70 books, small ones, big ones," he said, referring to himself in the third person. "When did Saddam say that the Kurds, all of them, were saboteurs?"
That question prompted a five-minute back-and-forth between the judge and the witness about the veracity of the allegation. When attention finally returned to Hussein, he explained how Jesus and the prophet Muhammad believed in forgiveness.
"I call on all Iraqis -- Arabs and Kurds -- to forgive, reconcile and make up," he said.
Hussein also occasionally challenged a witness from a small village in Dahuk province, in the extreme north of Iraq on the border with Turkey, who described living in a cave during the Anfal campaign and surrendering to Iraqi soldiers after hearing that an amnesty had been declared. The soldiers separated the townspeople by age and gender, then led a group of 37 men into the woods and shot them repeatedly, he said.
"I was standing then. There were 16 soldiers facing us with two lieutenants," said Qahar Khalil Mohammed, a farmer who now is 61. "One of the lieutenants said, 'Sit down,' and immediately the other one said, 'Shoot.' The soldiers all fired on us, and we collapsed on the ground."
"When they finished the bullets in the Kalashnikovs, they reloaded with new bullets. This happened three times," Mohammed testified. "The officer asked an older soldier to administer the coup de grace to all the bodies," but when it was his turn, Mohammed indicated, the bullet only grazed his head. His father and two brothers lay dead nearby, he said.
Witnesses said 27 people died in the incident.
"These two officers [the lieutenants], what are their names?" Hussein asked. "When he says there are two officers, what do they look like? Does this bring us to the truth?"
The hearing began as a two-day curfew in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq was lifted and life returned to normal.
The rash of brutal killings continued in the capital, where security authorities said Tuesday they had found 23 bodies in seven locations in the previous 24 hours. The victims, including one woman, ranged from 20 to 30 years old, and all had been shot in the head or chest. Two were decapitated.
Separately, an attack at a coffee shop in the Shiite neighborhood of Greyat killed at least 14 people, according to news services. There were conflicting reports on whether the shop had been hit by mortar shells or by a suicide bomber.
The Associated Press reported that former Iraqi vice president Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Hussein's former second-in-command who is now a fugitive with a $10 million bounty on his head, has ordered Sunni insurgents loyal to the former president to cease attacks, according to government and parliamentary officials who claimed knowledge of the developments.
The U.S. military said in a statement that an American soldier died late Monday of wounds he received when the vehicle in which he was riding was struck by a roadside bomb in northwest Baghdad. No further details were available. His death brought to 19 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq in November.
A British soldier also was killed Monday by small-arms fire during an insurgent attack on a British army base in Basra, in southern Iraq, the British Defense Ministry said. His death brought to 121 the number of British soldiers killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion, second only to the number of U.S. fatalities, according to iCasualties.org, a Web site that tracks casualties in Iraq. According to a Pentagon account, the United States has lost 2,834 service members.