A somber Saddam Hussein returned to court Tuesday for his genocide trial, two days after judges in another trial convicted him of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to hang.
Saddam, speaking to the court in the afternoon session, cited references to the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus who had asked for forgiveness for those who opposed them.
“I call on all Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds, to forgive, reconcile and shake hands,” Saddam said after respectfully challenging one witness’ testimony.
The ex-president, who was wearing a black suit with a white shirt, appeared subdued during the proceeding, where he and six other defendants are on trial for the Operation Anfal crackdown against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s.
Saddam showed none of the bravado of two days ago, when he shouted “Long live the people and death to their enemies!” as another court sentenced him to the gallows.
Instead, the ex-president sat in stony silence as Kurdish survivors told of being duped by promises of amnesty, only to watch their friends and family being shot by Iraqi government soldiers.
Saddam complained respectfully to the judge that the witnesses were not giving incriminating testimony, and that they were not being adequately cross-examined.
'We all fell to the ground'
On Sunday, another five-judge panel convicted Saddam in the deaths of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail.
He and two others were sentenced to death by hanging. Four co-defendants received lesser sentences and one was acquitted.
The Anfal trial will continue while an appeal in the Dujail case is under way. The prosecution says about 180,000 Kurds, most of them civilians, were killed in the crackdown in 1987-88.
On Tuesday, the first witness, Qahar Khalil Mohammed, told the court that he and other men from his village surrendered to Iraqi soldiers after being promised that Saddam had issued an amnesty for them.
Instead, the 33 men were lined up at the bottom of a hill and soldiers opened fire on them.
“When they fired in our direction, we all fell to the ground,” he said.
Mohammed said he was wounded but survived.
“When I went back, I saw my father and two brothers had been killed, as well as 18 of my relatives,” he testified. He said an Iraqi medical officer used a broken bottle to clean his wound.
Another witness, Abdul-Karim Nayif, also told how many Kurds turned themselves in after promises of amnesty. He submitted a video of a mass grave found near his village after the Kurds gained self-rule in 1991.
The video showed numerous human remains.
The trial adjourned for the day and will resume on Wednesday.
Iran calls for death
On Monday, the chief prosecutor in the Dujail case said a nine-judge appeals panel was expected to rule on Saddam’s guilty verdict and death sentence by the middle of January. That could set in motion a possible execution by mid-February.
In Tehran, the Iranian government called Tuesday for the death sentence on Saddam to be carried out, saying the former Iraqi dictator was a criminal who deserved to die.
“We hope the fair, correct and legal verdict against this criminal ... is enforced,” government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told a news conference.
Iran and Iraq waged a bitter eight-year war after Saddam invaded the country in 1980.
Iraqi authorities imposed a lockdown on Baghdad and surrounding provinces in anticipation of the Sunday verdict. Those measures were lifted Monday after a feared surge in violence failed to materialize, although there were pro-Saddam rallies throughout Sunni Muslim areas of the country.
Shiites and Kurds, who suffered terribly under Saddam’s rule, hailed the sentence as just.
If the appeals court upholds the sentences, all three members of the Presidential Council — President Jalal Talabani and Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashimi and Adil Abdul-Mahdi — must sign death warrants before executions can be carried out.
Talabani said Monday that although he opposes capital punishment, his signature is not needed to carry out Saddam’s death sentence. Talabani, a Kurd, has permanently authorized Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, to sign on his behalf. Abdul-Mahdi has said he would sign Saddam’s death warrant, meaning two of three signatures were assured.
Al-Hashimi, the other vice president and a Sunni, gave his word that he also would sign a Saddam death sentence as part of the deal under which he got the job April 22, according to witnesses at the meeting, which was attended by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
“We wanted a written promise before the first meeting of the new parliament. But later and during a meeting in the presence of American and British ambassadors and other politicians, the promise became oral in which he vowed not to oppose important rules and laws — especially those related to Saddam,” Deputy Parliament Speaker Khaled al-Attiyah told the AP.