BAGHDAD – Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer walked out of court Monday shortly after ending a monthlong boycott, but the chief judge immediately appointed other attorneys to defend the former president and the trial went on.
Four Kurdish witnesses testified about atrocities committed under Saddam's regime, involving alleged chemical attacks against their northern communities, before the trial was adjourned until Tuesday.
The walkout came shortly after chief defense lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi had ended a monthlong boycott of the trial in which Saddam and six other defendants are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for a 1987-88 offensive against Iraq's Kurdish population.
Saddam is to hear a verdict against him — and be sentenced if convicted — next week, in connection with an earlier, separate trial where he is charged with killing nearly 150 people from the town of Dujail. Al-Dulaimi said Sunday that if Saddam were condemned to death in the Dujail trial, it could provoke civil war in Iraq and unrest throughout the Middle East.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, rejected another al-Dulaimi suggestion that the Dujail verdict had been timed to influence the U.S. congressional elections, which are due two days later. A death sentence could potentially help U.S. President George W. Bush's Republican Party by reminding American voters of Saddam's crimes.
Speaking of the verdict's timing, Khalilzad said Sunday: "That decision was made by the Iraqi judges."
In the Dujail trial, Saddam and seven others are charged with crimes against humanity for the killing of 148 Muslim Shiites after an attempt to assassinate him in 1982.
In the Kurdish trial Monday,, al-Dulaimi filed 12 requests, including that the court should allow foreign lawyers to attend the trial without prior court permission. Al-Dulaimi had said Sunday that he was ending his boycott to make the requests.
The judge denied most of the requests, but he granted one, saying he would instruct prosecutors to provide the defense with copies of documents that al-Dualimi said were damaged when his offices in Baghdad were allegedly ransacked earlier this month.
Chief judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa rebuked al-Dulaimi for insisting on referring to Saddam as president of Iraq.
"There is only one president here — it's me, the court's president," the judge said.
Al-Dulaimi replied there was nothing in Iraqi law to bar him from using the title of "the legitimate president of Iraq."
After al Dulaimi left the trial again, Saddam demanded court explanation for appointing him lawyers "despite our wish to be represented by our own attorneys." The ex-president accused the court of violating the law, which he said stipulated that court-appointed attorneys are only for defendants who can not afford to pay for legal counsel.
During the testimony part of the trial, a witness, Fakher Ali Hussein, 36, said that his northern Kurdish village was attacked with chemical weapons in April 1987.
"When warplanes struck our village with chemical weapons, there was a bad smell that was like rotten apples or garlic," he said. "Then, villagers experienced shortness of breath, runny noses and vomiting."
A year later, Hussein said, Saddam's forces struck again with chemical weapons at another Kurdish village where he was hiding. "I saw dead and wounded people," he said, recalling the attack. He presented the court with a list of 35 people who were killed.
When a court-appointed lawyer questioned the witness if there were Kurdish guerrilla fighters in the attacked villages, chief prosecutor Munqith Munqith al-Faroon said the presence of the fighters "or even Iranian or Israelis doesn't justify bombing the village with chemical weapons."
Another witness, mosque preacher Jamal Sulaiman Qadir, 50, said four warplanes bombed his village with chemical weapons in May 1988. He was nearby when the attack happened and saw thick smoke rising from his village, he said.
He said when he returned to the village later, he saw 20 bodies lying on the ground. "Some of them were children still sucking on lollipops."
Qadir said more than 40 people died in the chemical attack and were buried in a mass grave.
"Thank God that the day has come when I'm able to come here (courtroom) wearing my traditional dress and speaking my (Kurdish) language to complain against Saddam," he said in Kurdish, through an Arabic interpreter.
Saddam and one other defendant in the trial are charged with genocide against the Kurds.