08/21/2006, 00.00
IRAQ
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Saddam begins second trial, continues to reject court's authority

The second trial of Saddam Hussein and six former Baa'th regime leaders began today. All are charged with killing thousands of Kurdish villagers. The former president and "Chemical Ali" declined to give their names and risk the death penalty.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, has refused to give his name to the court that will try him and six former army commanders on charges of killing tens of thousands of Kurdish villagers in a genocidal campaign in 1988.

Like in his first trial, Saddam challenged the legitimacy of the special tribunal, not only by refusing to give his name, telling Chief Judge Abdullah Ali al-Aloosh: "You know my name", but also by refusing to enter a plea. The judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf as well as that of his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali", who arrived in court using a cane and told the court that he "would remain silent".

The seven defendants face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in a 1988 military offensive codenamed Anfal—the Spoils of War—named after a Sura in the Qur'an.

The deaths of some 5,000 people in the Kurdish town of Halabja in March 1988 form the basis of a separate trial to be held later.

Saddam and Majid face the additional, graver charge of genocide. All the main charges carry the death penalty.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi said the campaign involved weapons of mass destruction, air strikes and the deportation of the elderly, women and children to detention camps, "not because they committed crimes but because they were Kurds".

Saddam and his co-accused are likely to argue that their crackdown was justified because Kurdish rebels and their leaders had committed treason by allying themselves with arch-enemy Iran.

As in the Dujail trial, witnesses will be called to testify, but for the first time though, the prosecution will call on experts who examined mass graves to give forensic evidence.

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