IMAGE: Saddam Hussein in court
David Furst  /  Pool via AFP - Getty Images
Saddam Hussein sits in a Baghdad courtroom Wednesday, a copy of the Quran in his hand.
updated 10/19/2006 9:38:39 AM ET 2006-10-19T13:38:39

A Kurdish witness at Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial on Thursday described how panicked villagers fled clouds of deadly gas as government forces bombed northern Iraq with chemical weapons in 1988.

Abdullah Saeed, 79, said clouds of smoke drifted to his village when Saddam’s forces bombed two nearby towns in April 1988.

“People in my village were screaming that they were contaminated by chemical weapons,” said Saeed. “We loaded children, women and other persons contaminated by chemical weapons onto three trucks and fled to another village.”

The farmer said that Saddam’s forces stopped the trucks, arrested the passengers and took them to a detention center in southern Iraq where sanitary conditions were appalling. He and another Kurdish witness said hundreds of people at the detention center died of malnutrition and diseases such as cholera.

The court adjourned until Oct. 30.

Saddam and six co-defendants are facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in Operation Anfal, a military offensive against the Kurds in 1987-88. The prosecution says some 180,000 Kurds were killed and hundreds of villages were destroyed.

Saddam and one other defendant are also charged with genocide. All seven defendants face death if convicted.

PM hopes for death sentence
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saddam’s conviction and execution would help undermine an insurgency in which Saddam’s supporters play a leading role.

“God willing, the trial will not last long and shortly a death sentence will be passed against this criminal tyrant, his aides and the criminals who worked with him,” al-Maliki said Wednesday in Najaf. “Definitely, with his execution, those betting on returning to power under the banner of Saddam and the Baath (Party) will lose.”

On Wednesday, the court heard two Kurds give harrowing accounts of surviving massacres by guards who took them into the desert in trucks, telling them they were being moved to another detention center.

One witness said he fell wounded into a ditch full of bodies. He said he climbed out and ran for his life past mounds in the desert — the mass graves of other victims.

Both witnesses recalled fellow prisoners reciting Islamic prayers as they realized they were going to be shot, asking for God’s forgiveness of their sins.

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