Chief judge Abdullah al-Amiri
Erik De Castro  /  Reuters
Chief Judge Abdullah al-Amiri addresses the court during the trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad on Monday.
updated 9/19/2006 2:46:20 PM ET 2006-09-19T18:46:20

The chief judge in Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial was replaced Tuesday amid complaints from Shiite and Kurdish officials that he was too soft on the former Iraqi leader, a move that could raise accusations of government interference in the highly sensitive case.

The government spokesman’s office announced that judge Abdullah al-Amiri was removed but did not say who would take his place or why he was replaced. He was replaced on the five-member panel by Mohammed al-Uraibiy, who was his deputy in the trial, said a court source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Al-Uraibiy is a Shiite Arab, the source said.

The Arab satellite stations Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera said al-Amiri was removed after a request from Iraq’s prime minister.

Hussein al-Duri, an aide to the prime minister, said one reason was al-Amiri’s comments last week in a court session, in which the judge told Saddam, “You were not a dictator.”

“The head of the court is requested to run and control the session, and he is not allowed to violate judicial regulations, “ al-Duri told Al-Arabiya television. “It is not allowed for the judge to express his opinion.”

Al-Amiri’s comment angered many Kurds and Shiites, fueling their criticism that he was too lenient with Saddam. Prosecutors had already asked for al-Amiri to be replaced after he allowed Saddam to lash out at Kurdish witnesses during a court session.

Turbulent trials
The change could revive complaints that the government is interfering in the tribunal trying Saddam and his regime members to ensure a quick guilty verdict. In the current trial, Saddam faces a possible death penalty if convicted on genocide charges over the Anfal military offensive against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s.

In Saddam’s first trial — over alleged atrocities against Shiites in the town of Dujail — the chief judge stepped down halfway through the nine-month-long proceedings, saying he could no longer put up with criticism from officials that he was too lenient in allowing courtroom outbursts by Saddam and his co-defendants.

He was replaced by a far tougher judge who several times threw out defendants and defense lawyers he said were out of line.

A verdict in the Dujail trial is expected on Oct. 16.

Al-Amiri presided over the latest session of trial Tuesday, in which more Kurdish survivors of Anfal recounted chemical bombardment of their villages by the Iraqi military.

Witnesses describe attack
One witness, Iskandar Mahmoud Abdul-Rahman, a major in the Kurdistan security force, told the court that an attack on his village began on March 20, 1988, when Iraqi aircraft appeared over the skies.

“We dropped to the floor; white smoke covered us, it smelled awful,” Abdul-Rahman testified in Kurdish. “My heart raced. I started to vomit. I felt dizzy. My eyes burned and I couldn’t stand on my feet.”

Abdul-Rahman said he was treated at two hospitals in Iran, and lost consciousness for 10 days.

“The doctors were frequently giving me injections and medication, including eye drops. They cut the burned skin with scissors,” he said, adding that his eyesight remains poor.

Abdul-Rahman then removed his blue shirt. There were several dark scars, each about 8 inches long, on his back.

Saddam’s chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, and prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon approached the witness to take a close look.

Decades-old allegations
Saddam and six other defendants are on trial for alleged atrocities against Kurds during Operation Anfal, a crackdown on Kurdish guerrillas in the late 1980s. The prosecution alleges some 180,000 people died in the campaign, many of them civilians killed by poison gas.

Saddam and his cousin “Chemical” Ali al-Majid are charged with genocide, and the others are accused of various offenses. All could face death by hanging if convicted.

Two other witnesses also testified Tuesday, repeating allegations of abuse suffered in the crackdown.

Raouf Faraj Abdullah, a 55-year-old farmer, told of poor living conditions and a shortage of food in a detention camp in the northern city of Irbil.

“The people of Irbil tossed food over the barbed wire,” said the man, who had a thick black mustache and wore a traditional Kurdish headdress.

He said he was moved to another camp, where he was separated from his 2-year-old son and his wife, who later gave birth in her prison cell.

“When I went to see her, I found out that my newborn baby had died,” he said.

Abdullah said 28 people were killed in attacks on his village.

Fiery exchanges
A third witness, Ubeyd Mahmoud Mohammed, said 70 people, including his wife and six children, were killed by an attack on his village March 22, 1988.

Saddam, dressed in a dark suit with a white handkerchief in his chest pocket, sat silently throughout the testimony, taking notes.

But the session was marked by a heated exchange between the senior prosecutor, Jaafar al-Moussawi, and defense lawyer Badee Izzat Aref, who accused prosecutors of misleading the court by presenting a witness who allegedly had a forged passport.

He referred to an Iraqi Kurd who told the court Monday that he sought asylum in the Netherlands where he acquired Dutch citizenship in 1994.

Saddam and his lawyers argued that Iraqi law barred dual nationality, and asked that the man’s testimony be stricken from the record.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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