ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In a Baghdad courtroom today, a 53-year-old Iraqi Kurd took the stand to testify against Saddam Hussein. He was the first witness in what is known as the Anfal trial. Anfal was the name of an Iraqi military campaign against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s. It left tens of thousands of people dead. Saddam and six co-defendants are now facing charges of crimes against humanity.
NPR's Tom Bullock reports from Baghdad.
TOM BULLOCK reporting:
BULLOCK: Behind the presiding judges of this case stands a large map of northern Iraq. Red dots show Kurdish towns attacked with conventional weapons or razed by the Iraqi army. Green dots mark villages allegedly attacked with chemical weapons. Ali Hama(ph) comes from a green dot village.
He looked nervous, twitching in his seat as the judge swore him in. Then his eyes steadied and he slowly told the court about the night of April 16, 1987. His story re-told here through the court interpreter.
Mr. ALI HAMA (Kurdish Victim, Iraqi Anfal Campaign): (Through translator) The shepherds were heading to their homes. The birds were returning to their nests. Several jets overhead, they controlled the sky.
BULLOCK: Hama said those jets bombed his small village. But the blasts didn't sound right, much quieter than the explosions he had heard in the past.
Mr. HAMA: (Through Translator) A greenish smoke rose from the bombs. There was a rotten apple or garlic smell. Minutes later, a lot of citizens, their eyes became red and they start vomiting.
BULLOCK: Then, Hama added -
Mr. HAMA: (Through translator) We were blind. We were screaming. There was no one to rescue. Just God.
BULLOCK: Hama went on to say villagers were later rounded up by Iraqi troops, men separated from women and children. He was taken to an interrogation room, where an Iraqi official said he wanted to skin him. Hama's powerful testimony went on for well over an hour. Then he was cross-examined by the defense team.
Unidentified Man #1: When the planes started to drop the gas bomb, were they carrying the Israeli flag or the Iranian flag? Let him reply.
Mr. HAMA: (Through translator) It was the same airplanes who were bombing us always.
BULLOCK: The defense insisted Hama couldn't be sure they were Iraqi planes. Later the defense asked Hama if the Peshmerga, the Kurdish guerrillas, were active in his village. He said yes, they came to the village to get food and blankets.
Mr. HAMA: (Through translator) Sometimes there were ten, five or three. They were coming at night. There was no way to count them.
BULLOCK: This was key to the defense. The Anfal campaign took place in 1987 and ‘88, during the final stages of the Iran/Iraq war. Iranian jets had attacked Iraqi targets time and again and the Peshmerga, according to defendant Sabar al-Douri, were fighting alongside the Iranians.
Mr. SABAR AL-DOURI (Defendant, Iraqi Anfal Campaign Trial): The Iranian enemy and Kurds were fighting together. Fighting hand-in-hand the Iraqi military.
BULLOCK: Sabar al-Douri was head of Iraq military intelligence at the time. He insisted no charges should be brought since that was a time of war, that the deaths of civilians couldn't be helped and, al-Douri said, the Anfal campaign was launched to stop a specific plan by Iranians and Kurds to blow up two key dams in Iraq.
Mr. AL-DOURI: If one of them is damaged, Baghdad will be overwhelmed with water and the political-military command has no option but repel such attack and save Iraq.
BULLOCK: Today's session ended with the testimony of a 41-year-old Kurdish woman whose hair was tucked under a black scarf. She cried at times on the stand, had trouble giving her testimony, trouble remembering specifics - dates, places and names. At one point she told the judge she was born in 1961. He corrected her, reading from her birth certificate, which showed she was born in 1965. But for all her shortcomings, she may have left the court and all those watching with it with the catchphrase of this trial. In bleak and painful testimony, she listed all the friends, family and neighbors she said had been Anfalized - killed by poison gas on the orders of Saddam Hussein.
Tom Bullock, NPR News, Baghdad.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.