- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

BAGHDAD — The former general known as “Chemical Ali,” notorious for purportedly gassing thousands of Kurds, answered questions in court yesterday as Iraq’s U.S.-backed government speeded legal proceedings against Saddam Hussein’s henchmen before next month’s critical elections.

The appearance of both Ali Hasan al-Majid and Saddam’s last defense minister, Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad, before a tribunal of judges was the first in a series of interrogatory hearings that will lead to full trials of Iraq’s one-time leaders.

Al-Majid looked haggard in a video released after the interrogation session, which was closed to the press. The gray-haired first cousin of Saddam leaned on a walking stick before sitting in front of a judge behind a desk.

Gen. Ahmad stared blankly at the floor as police officers stood on either side, holding his arms. Gen. Ahmad, a thickly set man with black mustache, later smiled broadly to others in the hearing room.

A defense lawyer who attended the hearings said Gen. Ahmad spent four hours at the tribunal, with the questions focused on charges related to attacks on Kurds and the Anfal campaign, a depopulation plan that killed and expelled hundreds of thousands of Kurds from northern Iraq during the 1980s. Gen. Ahmad is said to have led the Iraqi Army’s 1st Corps into the Anfal campaign.

The offensive included the 1988 Halabja chemical-weapons attacks that al-Majid has been accused of ordering.

“I have been a military officer for 40 years and have never been punished. It’s unfortunate that I have to sit like this before the court with the Americans sitting behind me,” Gen. Ahmad told the judge, according to the lawyer, who declined to be identified.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan would not say whether American officials were present.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Tuesday that detained figures from Saddam’s regime would begin appearing in court in the coming week as the new government pressed ahead with the trials before crucial national elections set for Jan. 30.

Insurgents renewed attacks yesterday, targeting election offices, killing two civilians and wounding four American security contractors in a roadside bomb attack.

Militants fired mortar rounds at a voter-registration center in Dujail, north of the capital, killing one civilian and wounding eight others.

Gunmen killed two men, apparently Iraqis, in execution-style slayings in the northern town of Beiji, police Capt. Hakim Ali said. One of the dead was found with his hands tied behind his back.

Also near Beiji, a roadside bomb exploded, wounding four American contractors employed by Florida-based Cochise Security Inc. to dispose of munitions in the area.

An Iraqi militant group calling itself the “Jihad Brigades” claimed responsibility for killing American contractors Joseph Wemple, a builder from Orlando, Fla., and Dale Stoffel, vice president for international development for Pennsylvania-based engineering-construction contractor CLI USA, between Baghdad and the town of Taji, 12 miles to the north. The claim could not be verified.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned insurgents who on Friday ambushed a Turkish diplomatic convoy and killed five Turkish security guards attached to Ankara’s embassy in Baghdad and two of their Iraqi drivers in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Three other Turks escaped the ambush to safety, including the embassy’s defense attache, who was wounded and taken to a U.S. military hospital, according to a Foreign Ministry statement issued yesterday. The statement said U.S. forces reportedly killed at least one militant.

In Mosul, terrorists detonated a roadside bomb near a U.S. military patrol, injuring no soldiers but hitting a school bus. One eighth-grade student was killed and six were wounded, the military said.

The court appearances of Saddam-era officials apparently were timed to remind Iraqi voters of the brutality they endured before a U.S.-led coalition ousted the dictatorship.

The videos were the first images of al-Majid and Gen. Ahmad since their arraignment in July along with Saddam and the other detainees.

They are the first known to have gone before an investigative hearing from among the 12 jailed top figures who, including Saddam, are facing trial for crimes during the regime’s three decades in power.

An official familiar with the procedure said the hearings are expected to continue tomorrow and involve a third detainee, whose identity was not revealed.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh told Al Arabiya television that Gen. Ahmad was being quizzed primarily to assist in tribunal proceedings against al-Majid.

“The former defense minister is being interrogated within the framework of focusing on the case of Ali Hasan al-Majid, who is accused of many crimes against the Iraqi people,” Mr. Saleh said, adding that any criminal trial would be public.

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