BAGHDAD, Iraq – A defiant Saddam Hussein shouted at prosecutors and refused to enter a plea Monday at the opening of his second trial, where he faces charges of genocide and war crimes connected to his scorched-earth offensive against Kurds nearly two decades ago.
The trial begins a new legal chapter for the ousted Iraqi leader, who once again faces a possible death penalty for the killings of tens of thousands of Kurds during the Iraqi army's "Operation Anfal" — Arabic for "spoils of war."
The proceedings are taking place in the same courtroom where Saddam spent months jousting with judges in his turbulent first trial. That case involved the killings of more than 148 Shiite Muslims from the town of Dujail in a crackdown launched after a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam.
Verdicts for Saddam and seven co-defendants are expected in that case Oct. 16. He faces a possible execution by hanging if convicted, although he has the right to appeal, a process that could take months.
The 1987-88 Operation Anfal was aimed at crushing independence-minded Kurdish militias and clearing all Kurds from the northern region along the border with Iran. Saddam accused the Kurds of helping Iran in its war with Iraq.
Survivors say many villages were razed and countless young men disappeared.
"It's time for humanity to know ... the magnitude and scale of the crimes committed against the people of Kurdistan," the lead prosecutor, Munqith al-Faroon, said in his opening statement.
"Entire villages were razed to the ground, as if killing the people wasn't enough," he said, displaying photos of dead mothers and children. "Wives waited for their husbands, families waited for their children to return — but to no avail."
The prosecution also accuses the army of using prohibited mustard gas and nerve agents in the campaign, and a map of northern Iraq in the courtroom had red stickers on locations where the weapons were allegedly used. The trial does not deal with the most notorious gassing — the March 1988 attack on Halabja that killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds. That incident will be part of a separate investigation by the Iraqi High Tribunal.
Saddam became furious Monday when prosecutors spoke of Kurdish women being raped in prison during the campaign.
"I can never accept the claim that an Iraqi woman was raped while Saddam is president," he shouted, banging on a podium in front of him and pointing a finger at the prosecutors. "How could I walk with my head up?"
"An Iraqi woman raped while Saddam is the leader?" he bellowed over and over in a rage. He said that during the 1990 Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, he heard a soldier raped an Arab woman, so he ordered him tried and then hanged "for three days at the site of the crime."
It was one of the few outbursts in a session that was generally calm and businesslike — unlike the many arguments and disturbances of the Dujail trial. After a nearly five-hour session, the trial adjourned until Tuesday.
If a death sentence in the Dujail trial is upheld on appeal while the Anfal case is still being tried, Iraqi law allows for the sentence to be carried out against Saddam, while the case would continue against the other defendants. Tribunal officials, however, have been unclear whether the second trial would be completed.
Saddam, wearing a black suit and white shirt, was the first defendant called into court as the trial's first session began Monday morning. When Chief Judge Abdullah al-Amiri asked Saddam to identify himself for the record, Saddam retorted: "You know me."
Al-Amiri said it was the law that defendants identify themselves. "Do you respect this law?" he asked Saddam.
"This is the law of the occupation," Saddam replied, then identified himself as "the president of the republic and commander in chief of the armed forces."
The judge told Saddam, "This trial is on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Are you innocent or guilty."
Saddam replied, "That would require volumes of books." Al-Amiri ordered a plea of innocent entered.
The Dujail trial was plagued by frequent outbursts by Saddam and his co-defendants, who repeatedly challenged the tribunal's legitimacy, saying it was created by the Americans, whose forces swept Saddam's regime from power in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Saddam's top co-defendant, Ali Hassan al-Majid, who allegedly led Operation Anfal and became known as "Chemical Ali" for the use of poison gas, also showed defiance at the trial.
Al-Majid refused to give a plea, and a plea of innocent was entered for him. The other defendants pleaded innocent. He walked into the court using a cane and wearing a red headscarf and proudly identified himself as "Fighting comrade 1st Maj. Gen. Pilot Ali Hassan al-Majid."
The chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Moussawi, gave the first opening statement, saying "the order (to launch the Anfal campaign) was issued by the defendant Saddam Hussein."
Al-Faroon, who is to lead the prosecution during the trial, then described detentions of hundreds of Kurds, saying girls were raped by guards and that those who died in prison were buried in shallow graves easy for animals to dig open.
For Kurds, the trial was their chance to taste vengeance — just as the Dujail trial was for Shiites. More than 1,000 survivors and relatives of victims of the Anfal campaign demonstrated Monday in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, demanding death for Saddam.
Khadhija Salih, who spent time in prison during the crackdown and who lost five brothers and sisters to it, said: "Today I will have my justice as I will see Saddam in the court."
"If I could, I would have killed him myself with great pleasure," she said.
The nine-month Dujail proceedings were frequently stormy, and halfway through, the chief judge was replaced amid criticism he was too lenient with Saddam. Three defense lawyers also were assassinated during the trial.
Human Rights Watch charged Friday that the Iraqi High Tribunal is incapable of fairly and effectively trying Saddam and others on the Anfal charges "in accordance with international standards and current international criminal law."
The New York-based group said the Dujail trial showed the court's administration to be "chaotic and inadequate," and also complained that the trial relied too heavily on anonymous witnesses. It said the court must "improve its practices if it is to do justice."
The defense renewed its challenge of the court's right to try Saddam. His chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said in his opening statement that the tribunal "was established by an occupation entity ... and occupation authorities have no right to establish courts."
Chief judge al-Amiri, a 54-year-old Shiite who was a judge under Saddam's regime for 25 years, hardly raised his voice — except when Saddam stepped out for a short break and, when he returned, al-Majid and another co-defendant stood out of respect for him.
"Sit down!" al-Amiri roared at them three times until they took their seats, as Saddam shot a smile back to his co-defendants.
Saddam and al-Majid are charged with genocide, along with the separate charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity that the other five defendants face.
Also on trial are Sabir al-Douri, former director of military intelligence; Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, former head of the Iraqi army's 1st Corps, which carried out the Anfal military operation; Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, then the Mosul governor; Rashid Mohammed, who was deputy director of operations for the Iraqi military; and Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, then-head of military intelligence's Eastern regional office.
Iraqi officials and rights groups say precise death count resulting from Operation Anfal are difficult to determine because of the attacks' scale. Estimates range from around 50,000 to well over 100,000.
About 60 to 120 complainants and prosecution witnesses are expected. The judges also will review more than 9,000 documents.