BAGHDAD, Iraq – A Kurdish woman described huddling with her children in a cave as warplanes bombarded her village with chemical weapons in testimony Wednesday at the genocide trial of Saddam Hussein.
For a second day, survivors took the stand in the trial, in which Saddam and six co-defendants are charged for their roles in the 1987-88 Anfal campaign, a military sweep against the Kurds of northern Iraq in which tens of thousands of people were killed.
Adiba Oula Bayez described the Aug. 16, 1987, bombardment of her village of Balisan, saying warplanes dropped bombs that spread a smoke smelling "like rotten apples."
"Then my daughter Narjis came to me, complaining about pain in her eyes, chest and stomach. When I got close to see what's wrong with her, she threw up all over me," said Bayez, a mother of five. "When I took her in to wash her face ... all my other children were throwing up."
"Then my condition got bad, too. And that's when we realized that the weapon was poisonous and chemical," she said.
Bayez said the villagers fled to nearby caves on mules, "but the helicopters came and bombed the mountains to prevent the villagers from taking refuge anywhere."
Like many villagers, she was blinded by the gas, she said. In the caves, people were vomiting blood, many had burns. "All I knew was that I was holding tight my five children," she said. "I couldn't see, I couldn't do anything, the only thing I did was scream, 'Don't take my kids away from me.'"
The villagers were taken by the military to a prison camp, and Bayez said four people kept in the same room with her died. On the fifth day in jail, she pried open her swollen eyes with her fingers and saw her children's "eyes swollen, their skin blackened," she said.
Bayez's account resembled those of two other survivors of the attack on Balisan and the neighboring village of Sheik Wasan who testified Tuesday in the trial, including Bayez's husband, Ali Mostafa Hama.
The survivors are testifying as plaintiffs in the case. Asked by the judges whom she wished to file her complaint against, Bayez exclaimed, "I complain against Saddam Hussein, Ali Hassan al-Majid and everyone in the (defendants') box. May God blind them all."
Saddam and his six co-defendants could face execution by hanging if convicted in the Anfal case. Saddam and his cousin, al-Majid, a Baath Party leader who allegedly organized Anfal, are charged with genocide — considered the toughest charge to prove since it requires showing their intention was to exterminate part of an ethnic group.
Saddam and al-Majid also face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, as do their co-defendants, most of whom are former military figures.
Saddam is still waiting a verdict in the first case against him — the nine-month-long trial over the killings of 148 Shiites in a 1980s crackdown on the town of Dujail. He and seven other co-defendants could also face the death penalty in that case. The verdict is due on Oct. 16.
The Anfal trial is likely to take months, as well. The campaign was on a far greater scale than the Dujail crackdown, with anywhere from 50,000 to 180,000 Kurds killed. Prosecutors plan to call up to 75 witnesses to the stand and present extensive documents from the former regime, as well as evidence from mass graves.
So far, however, the three-day-old trial has seen none of the shouting and disruptions that plagued the Dujail trial and caused many delays. In the Dujail case, the tough chief judge Raouf Abdul-Rahman frequently shouted down Saddam and his top co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim and threw out several defendants or lawyers for causing disturbances.
Instead, the tone in the Anfal case has been civil and businesslike. At one point, when al-Majid stood to make a point about military service, chief judge Abdullah al-Amiri complimented him, saying, "I'm sure you know better, you were in the know," and al-Majid thanked him.
Al-Amiri also told the 64-year-old al-Majid, who has looked haggard in his court appearances and uses a cane, that he could remain seated while addressing the court, bringing another round of pleasantries between the men.
It was a stark contrast to Ibrahim, who had furious arguments with Abdul-Rahman during the Dujail trial and in several sessions showed up in court wearing only long underwear to show his disdain for the tribunal.
Al-Majid stood and objected to Bayez's use of the term "Anfal-ized" — a term coined by Kurds and used by all three of the survivors so far to refer to those who disappeared and were killed in the Anfal campaign.
Al-Majid said the Balisan and Sheik Wasan operations took place before the Anfal campaign officially began in early 1988. Al-Amiri replied that the trial was also addressing some military activities that took place in the months leading up to Anfal.
The campaign code-named "Anfal" by Saddam's military took place in eight stages, starting in February 1988, with each stage hitting a different part of mainly Kurdish northern Iraq. But it was preceeded by a number of similar military operations in 1987 also under the command of al-Majid, according to a Human Rights Watch report on Anfal.
Two co-defendants in the trial on Tuesday denied that Anfal targeted civilians, saying it was launched solely to uproot Kurdish guerrillas they said were helping Iranian forces during the bloody Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.