- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s president said yesterday that Saddam Hussein has confessed to killings and other crimes committed during his regime, including the massacre of thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s.

President Jalal Talabani told Iraqi television that he had been informed by an investigating judge that “he was able to extract confessions from Saddam’s mouth” about crimes “such as executions” that the dictator had personally ordered.

Asked about specific examples, Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, replied “Anfal,” the code name for the 1987-88 campaign that his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan maintains led to the deaths of 182,000 Kurds and the destruction of “dozens of Kurdish villages.”

Those villages included Halabja, where thousands of Kurdish villagers were gassed in 1988.

However, Abdel Haq Alani, a legal consultant to Saddam’s family, said Saddam did not mention any confession when he met Monday with his Iraqi attorney.

“Is this the fabrication of Talabani or what? Let’s not have a trial on TV. Let the court of law, not the media, make its ruling on this,” Mr. Alani said.

Saddam faces his first trial Oct. 19 for his purported role in another atrocity: the 1982 massacre of Shi’ites in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt there against him.

The Iraqi Special Tribunal has decided to conduct trials on separate offenses rather than lump them together into a single proceeding.

The ousted dictator faces the death penalty if convicted in the Dujail case, the only one referred to trial so far.

Iraqi television aired the interview so late that it was impossible to reach Saddam’s attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, or officials of the special tribunal.

However, details of the purported confessions were not clear. It was uncertain, for example, whether Saddam thought he was admitting to a crime or simply acknowledging having issued orders that he thought were legal, something only a trial could determine.

Operation Anfal took place during Iraq’s war with Iran, which the Iraqi government thought maintained ties to the Iraqi Kurds.

The 1991 suppression of Iraqi Shi’ites, another atrocity for which Saddam faces charges, occurred after the majority rose up after U.S.-led forces drove the Iraqi army from Kuwait. Shi’ite leaders had hoped, wrongly, that the United States would intervene on their behalf.

In the ongoing battle to quell the insurgency, U.S. warplanes yesterday struck targets near the Syrian border where al Qaeda has expanded its presence, and civilians fled fighting in the northern city of Tal Afar, complaining they were running short of food and water.

But in a positive sign for the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad, American troops handed the Iraqi army control of the southern Shi’ite city of Najaf, which experienced bitter fighting last year.

The U.S. command also announced four more Americans had been killed in action.

The air strikes took place near Karabilah, about 185 miles west of Baghdad and one of a cluster of towns near the Syrian border used by foreign fighters to slip into Iraq.

In the first attack, Marine jets dropped bombs shortly after midnight onto two bridges across the Euphrates River that the U.S. command said insurgents used to move fighters and arms toward Baghdad and other cities.

The air strikes occurred about six miles east of the border city of Qaim, major parts of which have fallen under control of foreign fighters linked to the Islamist al Qaeda network.

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