Iraq

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As soon as the traffic ban ended, the traffic resumed today, and so did the legal proceedings against Saddam Hussein. The former dictator refused to enter a plea as his second trial began. Along with six others, Saddam is accused of what's known as the Anfal campaign. It was a long military operation against Iraqi Kurds. Iraq's army used chemical weapons and killed thousands of people.

NPR's Ivan Watson traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

In the mountains of northeastern Iraq, not far from the Iranian border, there is a green hillside that is covered with stone ruins. But these are not the remains of some ancient Mesopotamian civilization. Until 1979, this was a thriving village named Gulub(ph), home for some 350 Kurdish families.

Mr. Jasu Mahmoud(ph): (Through translator) There were three (foreign word), tea shoppers, and the other people from the other villages came here until 12:00 a.m.. People were staying up and playing and there was a lot of fun in the village.

WATSON: Today 40-year-old Jasu Mahmoud is one of a handful of people still living on the edge of the ruins. He gives a visitor a tour and names the people who once lived in what are now piles of rubble.

Mr. MAHMOUD: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: Mahmoud was just a boy when the Iraqi army encircled Gulub and deported all of the residents in military trucks. Mahmoud says he returned the next day for his missing sheepdog and watched soldiers destroy the entire community with bulldozers and explosives.

Mr. MAHMOUD: (Through translator) The first thing that they exploded was a school over there.

WATSON: Gulub was just the beginning of a decade-long campaign by the government in Baghdad to pacify the Kurds in the mountains of northern Iraq.

Mr. GWYNNE ROBERTS (Documentary Filmmaker): It was completely devastated terrain, you know. Everywhere you went there was nothing. It was just piles of stone and no animals. You know, trees had been destroyed. Wells had been concreted over. It was fairly grim.

WATSON: Gwynne Roberts is a documentary filmmaker who witnessed the first stages of mass deportation of Iraqi Kurds in 1981, when he hiked across northern Iraq. The process had dramatically accelerated, he says, by 1985, when he made a second trip, again on foot. Roberts says Saddam Hussein named his campaign against the Kurds Anfal.

Mr. ROBERTS: Anfal is a term taken from the Koran which means the spoils of war. In this terminology used by Saddam's regime, the Kurds became infidels. That is, they could do with them what they wanted, which is exactly what they did. In 1987 and 1988, the Iraqi regime disposed of upwards of 100,000 men, women and children, all Kurds, from their homes. Destroyed, well, we think in the region of 4,000 villages.

WATSON: In the town of Smoot(ph), near the edge of Kurdish-controlled Iraq, there is an area known by locals as the Anfal neighborhood, inhabited by Kurds who were evicted from their villages.

Some 50 families live here, in concrete houses separated by unpaved garbage-strewn streets, among them a woman named Habiba Mohammad Hassan and her two adult sons and daughter.

(Soundbite of people)

Over glasses of sugared tea, Hassan, whose temples, chin, lips and neck are decorated with traditional blue tattoos, describes how, on April 14th, 1988 Iraqi soldiers and helicopters encircled the village of Badambak(ph) and ordered the arrest of all of the men in the community.

Ms. HABIBA MOHAMMAD HASSAN (Iraq): (Through translator) When the helicopters came, my husband said goodbye to me and tried to escape from the village, but the soldiers caught him. He was arrested with the other men, and they were all put into military trucks.

WATSON: That was the last Hassan saw of her husband, two brothers and 49 other men from the village, which was later demolished by Iraqi troops.

Ms. HASSAN: (Through translator) I always thought they were still in prison, and I was waiting for them. It wasn't until the fall of Saddam, when I saw the mass graves on TV, that I realized all of the men were dead.

(Soundbite of music)

WATSON: This is an all too familiar story in Iraqi Kurdistan, where nearly every Kurd you talk to has lost relatives, friends and property in the Anfal campaign.

(Soundbite of Kurdish song)

Mr. DHIADI KURIDAHI(ph) (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

WATSON: Kurdish singer Dhiadi Kuridahi wrote this haunting 10-minute ballad about the period after he met a woman who mistook him for one of her two missing sons. Years after their disappearance, he said the woman continued to set places at the dinner table in case her boys came home.

Back at the Anfal neighborhood of Smoot, Habiba Mohammad Hassan weeps as she talks about her dead husband and brothers. But her eyes flash with anger when Saddam Hussein's name is mentioned.

Ms. HASSAN: (Through translator) If Saddam Hussein were given to me, I would slaughter him with my own hands. I would tell him, you buried our men alive. You should be buried alive as well.

WATSON: Standing next to the ruins of Gulub, farmer Jassim Mahmoud(ph) says he also wants Saddam executed, but not for the demolition of the village in 1979. He wants Saddam tried for the chemical weapons bombardment nine years later of the nearby town of Halabja, which killed thousands of Kurdish civilians, including his brother, who relocated to Halabja after the destruction of Gulub.

Mr. JASSIM MAHMOUD (Iraq): (Through translator) Of course (unintelligible) if I am asked, I will go and testify against Saddam Hussein, because my brother and tens of cousins, my aunt, everybody killed by Saddam Hussein.

WATSON: In 1998, documentary filmmaker Gwynne Roberts brought back soil samples from Halabja for tests, which he says confirmed the presence of mustard gas. He says Western chemical companies should also be investigated for their role in supplying the materials used for chemical attacks against Halabja and scores of other Kurdish communities.

Mr. ROBERTS: Those companies that supplied the wherewithal to make these weapons, you know, bear a responsibility. Maybe not as much as Saddam, but nevertheless, they were complicit in providing the weapons to attack those people.

WATSON: For the time being, Iraq's high tribunal is only expected to press charges against Saddam and six co-defendants. The defendants include Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, who is known throughout northern Iraq as Chemical Ali for his alleged role in the attacks in Kurdistan.

Ivan Watson, NPR News.

(Soundbite of Kurdish song)

Mr. KURIDAHI: (Singing in foreign language)

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