Defense lawyers for Saddam Hussein accused a former Kurdish militant of treason on Wednesday, arguing on the third day of Saddam's genocide trial that chemical attacks on Kurds were legitimate acts against local militias conspiring with Iran.
The emerging strategy -- evident in comments from lawyers and two the six other defendants -- came on a day filled with continued testimony about Kurdish suffering during the Anfal military campaign against northern villages in 1988.
The court adjourned until Sept. 11 at the request of defense lawyers who said they needed more time to prepare.
On Wednesday, three middle-aged women testified for the prosecution, all wearing traditional black dresses and offering similar tales of a sweet, mysterious smell that blinded them temporarily, killed their relatives and forced them to hide in caves.
The attacks they described preceded by a few months the start of the Anfal campaign, the heart of the case against Saddam and his co-defendants. But the witnesses said that the attacks -- allegedly with mustard gas or nerve agents -- represented the start of a wider effort to destroy everything they had.
"I lost all my livestock, all my property, I lost all my health," said Adiba Awla Baiz, 45, a mother of five from Balasan. "I lost my sight. My children lost their sight."
She said she also lost the ability to give birth. After two miscarriages and the death of an infant, "The doctor told me my womb was affected by chemical weapons," she said.
"We were not at fault. Whoever had a hand in this is a criminal," she said
Saddam's defense lawyers have spent little time disputing victims' claims over the past three days, the first phase of what is likely to be a long trial.
Instead, particularly on Wednesday, they have suggested that dead Kurdish families were collateral damage in an effort to root out Iranian troops in the area.
Several times, the lawyers' line of questioning boiled down to a single inquiry: Were there soldiers loyal to Iran in the bombed villages?
All the witnesses responded in a manner similar to Baiz.
"No, no, never," she said. "I never saw anyone like this."
The questioning continued. The lawyers asked Kheder if she knew why the area was being bombed.
"There was no reason," she said. "They were just bombing us."
They asked repeatedly about shelters described by victims, suggesting that they were actually bunkers for Iranian soldiers or Kurdish pesh merga militias opposed to the Iraqi government.
The legal assault intensified after Mosa Abdullah Mosa, 50, the final witness of the day, admitted to being a pesh merga fighter at the time of two chemical weapons attacks on his village, Ichmala, one in 1987 and another in August 1988.
He described harrowing scenes of death and injury, with some people's eyes falling from their sockets. Then a defense lawyer rose to declare that Mosa must have been working with Iranians because he said he was trained to cover his mouth with a wet cloth to minimize the effects of chemical weapons.
A barrage of questions followed. Had he ever fought against the Iraqi government?
"Nobody asked me to participate in a military operation," said Mosa, a father of four who now lives in Tennessee. "I was a guard in the 1st Brigade headquarters."
Was the militia keeping war prisoners from the Iraqi government?