Sat, Jul 03, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Saddam hearing strikes a nerve in Iraq

VENGEANCE OR JUSTICE?As the heavily-edited TV clips aired throughout the occupied country, people reacted with emotions ranging from joy to outrage


Iraqis in a barber shop watch satellite television in Baghdad, Iraq, on Thursday as former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appears during his court hearing. Although the hearing was aired throughout the world, it was heavily edited by US military authorities.


Three thousand skeletons lie in this one stretch of farmland in southern Iraq, the bones of those massacred by Saddam Hussein's regime, buried under earthen mounds marked with the remnants of the victims' clothing.

Here, people now speak openly of their memories. Some talk of executing Saddam, others of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Saddam, the dictator who towered over their lives, now stands in the dock in Baghdad, awaiting his moment of judgement and again alive in people's minds.

The fallen dictator, with grey beard and a grey pinstripe suit, was read the preliminary charges against him on Thursday in a heavily-guarded courtroom. Media access to the hearing was restricted and journalists' reports about the hearing were edited by the US military.

Among the charges read was the massacre of Shiites in their revolt after the 1991 Gulf War.

Mohammed Jaber al-Husseini helps his father guard the acres of farm land in this cemetery of "unknown martyrs" where 760 corpse remain unidentified.

It lies in Mahawil, 100km south of Baghdad, just one of an estimated 260 mass graves and 300,000 bodies scattered around the country.

There are items that help identify the corpses -- identity papers and clothes and worry beads -- but often to no avail.

"The unidentified bodies are put in a coffin and buried here," said his cousin Ahmad Hassan al-Husseini, 19.

"When someone comes, we ask does he know what the person was wearing when he disappeared," Husseini explains.

"Two days ago, a man was identified by his wife and brother. They dug up the bones and took them away," said Ahmad Hassan, Husseini's cousin.

"His wife was pregnant when he disappeared and now his daughter is 13 years old.

Saddam was accused of

1. The attack on Halabja, a Kurdish village hit by chemical weapons in 1988, killing 5,000 people during the Iran-Iraq War.

2. The 1983 killing of the Barzani family, relatives of one of the main Kurdish leaders, Massoud Barzani.

3. The killing of political party leaders over nearly 30 years.

4. The suppression of the 1991 Shiite and Kurdish uprising which followed the 1991 Gulf War.

5. The killing of religious leaders.

6. The "Anfal" campaign, a period of persecution against the Kurds in the late 1980s in which more than 100,000 people were killed.

7. The invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

Source: The guardian";

"The executions lasted throughout the whole month of Ramadan. We heard the shooting three times each day," he recalled.

Muthanna Abed Ali, 43, who battled Saddam in 1991 and escaped the graves, said he was happy to know Saddam had been taken before a court.

"Since he was the dictator, all decisions came from Saddam Hussein. The others were like machines carrying out his orders," he said. "We believe in revenge. I want him and his family to suffer as we have suffered for 13 years.

"I want to see him executed on the same spot where the mothers and widows cried for their sons and husbands. I want this so my mother can take off the black she has worn for 13 years," Ali said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Saddam Hussein supporters demonstrated peacefully in the restive city of Samarra north of Baghdad yesterday, denouncing the deposed dictator's appearance the previous day before an Iraqi judge.

The protestors flooded into the Sunni bastion of Samarra, 125km north of the Iraqi capital, brandishing portraits of their former leader.

Men, women and children shouted: "All Iraq knows that Saddam is the glory of the nation."

"Our blood, our soul, we will defend Saddam," they chanted.

One demonstrator, Mohammed Jassem, lashed out at the spectacle of Saddam taken to court.

"The trial has been ridiculous. Those who judge the president and those who govern are named by the coalition forces. This is why they do not have the right to judge president Saddam Hussein, who is the one who has legitimacy in the country."

"We are all pro-Saddam. He continues to be our president," the protestors chanted.

Samarra falls within the so-called Sunni triangle, where there has been a persistent bedrock of support for the former dictator.

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