Iraqi opposition presses for war crimes trials

The "indictments" are quite specific. Taha Yaseen Ramadan, Iraqi first deputy prime minister, "ordered the murder of a group of suspected insurgents by having tanks run over their heads" after the 1991 Gulf War. As commander of the Iraqi Popular Army, he "allegedly raped a number of women". Watban Ibrahim Al-Hasan Al-Tikriti, the Iraqi Minister of the Interior, "took part in the mass summary executions of suspected dissidents" during the suppression of the March uprising around Baghdad. Mohamed Hamza al-Zubaidi "is recorded on official government videotape kicking and beating people in the head in the city of Nassiriya during the uprising". Aziz Salih al-Noman, while governor of Kerbala and Najaf, "personally ordered the wanton destruction of holy sites, ancient libraries and graveyards".

The Iraqi opposition, which open their campaign for war crime indictments against Saddam Hussein's henchmen in London tonight, have even catalogued the wickedness of the "little men", the military officers whose names are largely unknown in the West. There is, for example, Lieutenant-Colonel Abdel-Karim Al-Jouhaifi, "directly responsible for the murder and burning of 700 women, children and elderly persons" in Sourey; Major General Rashaash Al-Imara, accused of participating in the chemical bombing of the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988; and Major General Hisham Fakhri, a military governor who allegedly participated in mass executions in Basra in 1991. Saddam Hussein himself and his son Uday would face - if the Iraqi opposition had their way - charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

But who believes that the Iraqi regime will ever go on trial? The Iraqi National Congress (INC), which lost dozens of its supporters to President Saddam's death squads in last year's Iraqi offensive in Kurdistan, claims that there is a case in international law. So apparently does Warren Christopher, the former United States Secretary of State, and his successor, Madeleine Albright. And so does Ann Clwyd, MP, who will be hosting tonight's opening campaign at the House of Commons for Iraq's leadership to be brought before an international tribunal.

True, Baroness Thatcher and Danielle Mitterrand, Lord Archer and others are also supporting the campaign. But the atrocities of Bosnia proved how difficult it was to institute due process against war criminals. So who will overthrow President Saddam and hunt down the guilty men? Not the INC, who suffered from a bloody debacle in northern Iraq last year. Certainly not the Western powers which chose to allow Saddam to fight again another day when Kuwait was liberated in 1991.

And if Tehran rather than Baghdad becomes America's new Enemy Number One in the Middle East, then Saddam may be needed - as he was in 1980 - to re-invade Iran. Western leaders are indeed oddly uneasy about the idea of putting Saddam in the dock. While sending good wishes to the Iraqi opposition's campaign, John Major has talked of the difficulty of establishing "meaningful legal proceedings" under the Geneva Conventions or the International Court of Justice. Even odder is the Government's supposed determination to see Saddam dethroned but its preparedness to allow into Britain the Iranian opposition groups based in Baghdad - who live under the protection and with the active support of a well known name who tops the list of the Iraqi opposition's "indictments": Saddam Hussein.

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