Saddam Goes on Trial for Genocide Against Kurds.

Saddam Hussein refused to plead as he and six former army commanders went on trial in Baghdad on Monday for the killing of tens of thousands of Kurdish villagers in northern Iraq in the 1980s.

The start of the new trial, the second in which Saddam faces the death penalty, comes amid worsening sectarian violence between Saddam's fellow minority Sunnis and Shi'ites that has raised fears Iraq is sliding toward all-out civil war.

``It is difficult to fathom the barbarity of such acts,'' Munqith al-Faroon, chief prosecutor in the trial, told the court of the seven-month operation in 1988 that was codenamed Anfal -- the Spoils of War -- after the title of a chapter of the Koran.

Saddam, 69, repeating his position at the start of an earlier trial for crimes against humanity, dismissed the U.S.- sponsored tribunal as a ``court of occupation'' and refused to state his name.

``You know my name,'' the characteristically combative former president, tieless and wearing a smart black suit, told chief judge Abdullah Ali al-Aloosh.

When asked to enter a plea, he replied: ``This needs a lot of books.'' Aloosh entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

One of Saddam's co-defendants is his cousin, Ali Hassan al- Majid, known as ``Chemical Ali'' for allegedly ordering poison gas attacks on Kurds in northern Iraq. Looking frail and walking with a cane, he entered the courtroom last.

Majid, wearing traditional Arab robes and red-checkered headdress, introduced himself as ``first major general.'' Aloosh also entered an innocent plea for Majid after he told the court he would prefer to remain silent.

Poison Gas

The seven defendants, including Saddam's former defense minister, face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in Anfal, which Faroon said had left 182,000 people dead or missing.

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

Iraqi forces are accused of using mustard gas and nerve agents in the campaign, launched after Saddam's government declared large rural areas of three predominantly Kurdish provinces prohibited areas.

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

A series of eight campaigns between February and August 1988 was aimed at driving Kurds from their homes into ''collective villages'' where Iraqi authorities could monitor them.

Those who did not die in the military attacks were arrested, displaced, tortured or killed, prosecutors say.

Faroon said the bodies of hundreds of Kurds killed in the campaign had been found in mass graves unearthed after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam in 2003.

Forensic evidence from the graves, several in southern Iraq far from the Kurdish areas, will form part of the trial, he said, adding that some bodies had been linked to Anfal by their Kurdish dress.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Moussawi, said elderly people, women and children had been deported to detention camps, ``not because they committed crimes, but because they were Kurds.''

Judges are still considering their verdict in Saddam's first trial, which began in October 2005. In that case he is charged over the killing of 148 Shi'ite Muslim men following a 1982 assassination attempt on him in the town of Dujail.

But the killings of three defense lawyers have prompted international rights monitors to voice concerns about Iraq's ability to hold fair trials amid the post-war chaos.

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

[Fuente: New York Times, NY, Us, 21Aug06]

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