Saddam Admits Approving Death Sentences

Saddam Hussein in court. Credit; David Furst/AFP/Getty Images. i i

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussien argues with prosecutors while testifying during his trial in Baghdad on Wednesday. David Furst/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption David Furst/AFP/Getty Images
Saddam Hussein in court. Credit; David Furst/AFP/Getty Images.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussien argues with prosecutors while testifying during his trial in Baghdad on Wednesday.

David Furst/AFP/Getty Images

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein confirms in court that he approved death sentences for Shiite villagers in the early 1980s, saying they were guilty of attempting to assassinate him. A day earlier, the government filed charges of genocide against Saddam for his treatment of Iraq's Kurdish minority in the 1980s.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

In this part of the program, we go to court in Iraq and in Afghanistan. First, to Baghdad, where the trial of Saddam Hussein entered a new phase: The former Iraqi dictator is being questioned, for the first time, by the judges and the prosecutors about his role in the massacre of Shiites in the village of Dujail more than 20 years ago. The session comes one day after Saddam was charged with genocide, in a campaign he allegedly launched against the Kurds in Northern Iraq in the late 1980s.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay is monitoring the proceedings in Baghdad. And, Jamie, I gather that there have already been fireworks at the trial.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Yeah, I think we can expect that whenever Saddam takes the stand, he's going to resort to some sort of dramatics and today was no exception. He was being cross-examined. Well, he was asked one question and that just set off one of his big political speeches. You know, again, he's shown how in tune he is with the situation playing outside his prison and outside the courtroom in the Green Zone. You know, he said he wasn't going to be tried by people who've tortured and killed thousands of Iraqis in the streets, and he actually named the Interior Ministry.

So he knows about the allegations against the Interior Ministry, which is run mainly by Shiites, that's accused of all these sectarian reprisal attacks. You know, he said it was run by the Iranians; you know, again, a reference to the Shiite politicians who belonged to the Iranian Trade Militia when Saddam was in charge.

He launched into a very heated exchange with the chief judge, claiming he had no right to run the court since Saddam had actually disbarred him years ago. And the judge rejected that, but he actually got involved in this argument with Saddam. And this is just part of what's been going on ever since this trial has started.

MONTAGNE: Let's turn to this new indictment. These charges involve the deaths of thousands and thousands of Kurds, clearly a more serious set of charges than the ones that he is facing in court today.

TARABAY: Yeah, the number of those punished and killed is certainly larger than the Dujail case. Anfar was a series of military campaigns against the Kurds that went on in the late 1980s. You know, the charges of genocide relate to the forced removal of Kurds from villages, which were then cemented over so no one could come back and work the land. And prosecutors say that entire families were moved to supposedly developed cities that they claim were practically concentration camps.

They say that thousands were allegedly detained illegally. And thousands, you know, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, according to which report you read, were also killed by poisonous gasses. Ali Hassan al-Majid, who is better known as Chemical Ali, is one of those who's been named along with Saddam, in the indictment, to stand trial. There is no word on when the trial proceedings will start. People I've spoken to say there are plenty of judges to actually carry this trial out at the same time as the Dujail case because that one doesn't seem like it's going to be wrapping up any time soon.

MONTAGNE: Jamie, just briefly, elsewhere in Iraq, there have been some developments on the political front.

TARABAY: Yeah, it looks like there's been a split within the Shiite Alliance, the block that won the most votes and has the right to appoint the prime minister. The current nominees, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who refuses to step down; and his main rival is from an opposing party within the alliance. His name is Adel Abdul Mahdi. And he said to Jaafari that he's lost the confidence of everyone and that he should step aside, and Jaafari refuses. And if those two disagree, it could mean that both parties end up abandoning the alliance.

MONTAGNE: Jamie, thank you very much.

TARABAY: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jamie Tarabay speaking from Baghdad.

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