Monday, January 8, 2007

12:30 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Saddam Hussein’s trial for the killing of 180,000 Kurds in the 1980s resumed today with the late dictator’s seat empty, nine days after he went to the gallows. The court’s first order of business was to drop all charges against Saddam.

Six co-defendants still face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from a military campaign code-named Operation Anfal during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war.

Shortly after the court reconvened today, a bailiff called out the names of the accused and the six men walked silently into the courtroom one after another.

Chief Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa said the court decided to stop all legal action against the former president, since “the death of defendant Saddam was confirmed.”

All seven defendants in the Anfal case, including Saddam, had pleaded not guilty to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Saddam and one other man also pleaded not guilty to the additional charge of genocide.

Saddam was sentenced to death for the killing of 148 Shi’ites and hanged on Dec. 30 in a chaotic execution that has drawn global criticism for the Shi’ite-dominated government. An illicit video from inside the former leader’s execution chamber showed him being taunted on the gallows.

Saddam’s half brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan Ibrahim, and former head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, were sentenced to death after being convicted along with Saddam of involvement in the killings in the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt there against Saddam.

Their executions were postponed, however, until after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which ended six days ago. The executions were expected in the coming days, though Jaafar al-Mousawi, the chief prosecutor in the separate Dujail case, said the timing would “be determined by the government.”

The six remaining defendants in the Anfal case — all senior members of Saddam’s ousted regime — include his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali” for his purported use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds.

As al-Majid took his seat in court today, he tried to turn on his microphone to speak publicly. The judge quickly shut it off, preventing him from being heard.

The other defendants are former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai, who was the commander of Task Force Anfal and head of the Iraqi army 1st Corps; Sabir al-Douri, Saddam’s military intelligence chief; Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, former governor of Mosul and head of the Northern Affairs Committee; Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi Armed Forces and Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, former head of military intelligence’s eastern regional office.

Legal experts said the Anfal trial would proceed more smoothly without Saddam.

The prosecutor aired a video showing the aftermath of chemical weapons attacks on Kurdish areas, with dozens of dead men, women and children. Accompanying audio reportedly containing the voice of al-Majid saying “I will hit them with chemical [weapons].”

Another audiotape was played for the court, reportedly with Saddam saying, “These weapons are only used at my orders.”

Violence continued today, with nine workers — primarily Shi’ite — killed in an ambush near Baghdad’s airport, and six bodies found in a largely Sunni neighbhorhood in southern Baghded.

The U.S. military also reported the deaths of two American soldiers north of Baghdad a day earlier. The deaths came after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced a new Iraqi drive to clear Baghdad of militants — with U.S. help.

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