BAGHDAD, Iraq – An Iraqi tribunal is incapable of fairly and effectively trying Saddam Hussein and six others on genocide charges stemming from an Iraqi campaign that killed an estimated 100,000 Kurds in the 1980s, a human rights group said Friday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Iraqi High Tribunal must "improve its practices if it is to do justice" in the trial scheduled to start Monday.
The case involves Saddam's alleged role in "Operation Anfal" — Arabic for "spoils of war." The 1987-88 operation intended to crush independence-minded Kurdish militias and clear Kurds from the sensitive Iranian frontier. Saddam had accused Kurdish militias of ties to Iran.
Saddam and his co-defendants are charged with genocide for the campaign, which razed thousands of Kurdish villages and left the inhabitants dead or displaced. Poison gas was said to have been used.
Human Rights Watch said "serious shortcomings" in Iraq's judicial system were revealed by Saddam's first trial, in which he and seven others were charged with the deaths of 148 Shiite Muslims from Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt against the former leader. The trial adjourned last month until Oct. 16, when the verdicts are expected.
"Based on extensive observation of the tribunal's conduct of its first trial ... Human Rights Watch believes that the Iraqi High Tribunal is presently incapable of fairly and effectively trying a genocide case in accordance with international standards and current international criminal law," the group said in a statement.
The court's administration was "chaotic and inadequate," and the trial relied too heavily on anonymous witnesses, it added.
The five-member panel that will conduct the Anfal trial will be headed by Abdullah al-Amiri, a 54-year-old Shiite Muslim jurist.
"The victims of the Anfal won't see justice done unless the Iraqi tribunal does a much better job on its second case than it did in the Dujail trial," Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program, said in the statement.
"The Anfal campaign was a genocide carried out against part of the Kurdish population," Dicker said. "Genocide is the most serious crime there is, and it's essential that the tribunal conducts the Anfal trial fairly."
Human Rights Watch said it conducted extensive research in northern Iraq in 1992 and determined that at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds were deliberately and systematically killed. Numerous villages were bombed and some were gassed and the survivors were rounded up, taken to detention centers and eventually executed at remote sites, it said.
The campaign was led by the secretary of the Baath Party's Northern Bureau, Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam who became known as "Chemical Ali" for the use of poison gas.