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Court drops Kurd charges against Saddam

Associated Press - by SINAN SALAHEDDIN  

Saddam Hussein's trial for the killing of 180,000 Kurds in the 1980s resumed Monday with the late dictator's seat empty, nine days after he went to the gallows. The court's first order of business was to drop all charges against Saddam.

Six co-defendants — including Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" — still face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from a military campaign code-named Operation Anfal during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war.

Shortly after the court reconvened Monday, a bailiff called out the names of the accused and the six men walked silently into the courtroom one after another.

Chief Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa said the court decided to stop all legal action against the former president, since "the death of defendant Saddam was confirmed."

All seven defendants in the Anfal case, including Saddam, had pleaded innocent to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Saddam and one other man also pleaded innocent to the additional charge of genocide.

Prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon aired graphic video Monday of scores of bodies in trucks and in piles on the street, overlayed with a voice purported to be al-Majid saying "I will hit them with chemical weapons." But al-Majid testified that the bodies were killed by Iranian troops, not Iraqis.

Another audiotape had the alleged voice of Saddam warning, "These weapons are only used at my orders." He also reassures colleagues that the weapons "kill by the thousands."

"It will force them out of their homes without water or food. It makes them evacuate their homes naked," the voice said.

Saddam was sentenced to death for the killing of 148 Shiites and hanged on Dec. 30 in a chaotic execution that has drawn global criticism for the Shiite-dominated government. An illicit video from inside the former leader's execution chamber showed him being taunted on the gallows.

Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan Ibrahim, and former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, were sentenced to death after being found guilty along with Saddam of involvement in the killings in the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt there against Saddam.

Their executions were postponed, however, until after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which ended six days ago. They were expected in the coming days, though Jaafar al-Mousawi, the chief prosecutor in the separate Dujail case, said the timing would "be determined by the government."

Sami al-Askari, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, declined to give reasons for the delay and said only that "no date has been made yet" for al-Bandar and Ibrahim's hangings.

As al-Majid took his seat in court Monday, he tried to turn on his microphone to speak publicly. The judge quickly shut it off, preventing him from being heard.

Legal experts said the Anfal trial would proceed more smoothly without Saddam.

"The trial will be more elastic and easy. It will clarify and expose more facts because Saddam Hussein's disappearance from dock will encourage other defendants to mention some facts that they were afraid to divulge when he was with them," said Tariq Harb, an Iraqi lawyer and legal expert.

In Monday's session, al-Faroon presented a document allegedly signed by Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, former governor of Mosul and head of the Northern Affairs Committee, who is among those on trial, calling for the execution of 10 members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party headed by current Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Al-Ani denied the handwriting was his.

"This is not my signature and I'm sure of that," he told the court.

The other defendants are former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai, who was the commander of Task Force Anfal and head of the Iraqi army 1st Corps; Sabir al-Douri, Saddam's military intelligence chief; Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi Armed Forces and Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, former head of military intelligence's eastern regional office.

Violence continued Monday, with nine workers — primarily Shiite — killed in an ambush near Baghdad's airport, and six bodies found in a largely Sunni neighbhorhood in southern Baghded.

The U.S. military also reported the deaths of two American soldiers north of Baghdad a day earlier. The deaths came after al-Maliki announced a new Iraqi drive to clear Baghdad of militants — with U.S. help.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the American commander in charge of daily operations in Iraq, contrasted the latest effort with a largely ineffective one in 2006, which was abandoned after the Iraqi army failed to send much of the promised troop strength, making it impossible to secure neighborhoods after American forces cleared them of insurgent and militia fighters.

This time, Odierno said, U.S. forces would remain in the cleared areas.

Still, the U.S. commander said he expected it to take years for U.S. and Iraqi forces to fully claim victory.

"I believe the American people, if they feel we are making progress, they will have the patience," he told reporters Sunday. "I think the frustration is that they think we are not making progress." 

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