Two former Saddam Hussein aides were ejected from a Baghdad courtroom for unruly behaviour today on the second day of a trial over the brutal crushing of a 1991 rebellion in Iraq by Shiite Muslims.
The order came as a 76-year-old former Shiite politician testified he was falsely imprisoned for months in the aftermath of the uprising and described fellow inmates being carried back to jail in blankets after hours of torture rendered them unable to walk.
“I was later released because of the presidential pardon, but my life was already destroyed. I was dismissed from the parliament. My cotton was destroyed by the army shelling and my house was damaged,” Kamil Kanoun Abu al-Heil recalled.
Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who gained the nickname “Chemical Ali” after poison gas attacks on Kurdish towns in the 1980s, and 14 others went on trial yesterday for crimes against humanity in the case, which stems from the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, in which a US-led coalition drove Saddam’s army from Kuwait.
Iraqi Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north – repressed under Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime – sought to take advantage of the defeat, launching separate uprisings and briefly seizing control of 14 of the country’s 18 provinces.
US troops created a safe haven for Kurds in three northern provinces, preventing Saddam from attacking. But Iraqi troops crushed the other uprising in the predominantly Shiite south, killing tens of thousands.
Al-Heil denied that he was part of the uprising, pointing out he was a member of Saddam’s rubber-stamp parliament. “I was part of the regime. No way I could have participated in the uprising,” he said.
In the middle of today’s session, chief judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa ordered former Republican Guards commander Maj. Gen. Iyad Fathi al-Rawi – who led the 1988 offensives at the end of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war – to leave the courtroom “for not sticking to the rules of the court”.
The judge then ordered the defendants who sat in three rows in a wooden pen not to talk to each other or sit cross-legged.
Half an hour later, he dismissed former defence minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai for the same reason.
Al-Tai asked what he had done before leaving and the judge replied, “you know what you have done”.
It was the third trial of former regime officials. The first led to the hanging of Saddam and three others after their conviction for the 1982 killings of 148 Shiites from the town of Dujail. The second trial involved the killing of more than 100,000 people during a 1980s military crackdown on Kurds.
Al-Tai, al-Majid and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, an ex-deputy director of military operations – were sentenced to death in the so-called Anfal case. They are standing trial in the Shiite uprising case pending their appeals.
The defendants who spoke yesterday maintained their innocence and questioned the US-backed court’s credibility.
Sabir al-Douri, former director of military intelligence, told the judge he was in Baghdad during the 1991 uprising and did not visit the south during that period.
Sabawi Ibrahim, a Saddam half brother who headed an intelligence agency in 1991, challenged the trial, saying the court “was established by the occupiers who ignored the international law and invaded Iraq without the permission of the United Nations”.
He also defended the crackdown on the Shiite uprising, saying it was orchestrated by Iran, with which Saddam’s regime had fought a devastating war.
“Iran failed to achieve its goal in the 1980-1988 war, but it seized the chance in 1991 to kill Iraqis and loot Iraq,” Ibrahim said. “Iran used its elements and agents to destroy Iraq.”