The second trial of Saddam Hussein, who is accused of killing thousands of Kurds with poison, began yesterday with the former Iraqi leader refusing to accept the "laws of occupation".
Saddam and seven fellow defendants, among them his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid - known as "Chemical Ali" - refused to enter a plea at the hearing to charges of genocide and war crimes.
The military operation, codenamed Anfal or "spoils of war", was launched in the late 1980s. The most notorious gassing episode, which led to the deaths of 5,000 people in Halabja, northern Iraq, will be the subject of a separate investigation by the Iraqi High Tribunal.
The verdict on Saddam's first trial, on charges of killing 148 members of the Shia community at the town of Dujail, is to be handed down in October.
Asked yesterday to identify himself to the court and show respect for the law, Saddam responded: "You know me ... This is the law of the occupation. I am the president of the republic and commander-in-chief of the armed forces."
The trial judge, Abdullah al-Amiri declared: "This trial is on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Are you innocent or guilty." The judge then ordered a plea of "not guilty" to be entered.
Ali Hassan al-Majid, who allegedly led operation Anfal, also refused to enter a plea. Entering the court, using a cane and wearing a red checkered headdress, he identified himself as: "Fighting comrade, first major-general, pilot, Ali Hassan al-Majid."
Opening the proceedings Munqith al-Faroon, the chief prosecutor, produced photographs of dead women and children. "It's time for humanity to know ... the magnitude and scale of the crimes committed against the people of Kurdistan.
"Entire villages were razed to the ground, as if killing the people wasn't enough ... Wives waited for their husbands, families waited for their children to return - but to no avail."
The order to launch the Anfal campaign, the prosecutor said, had been issued by Saddam Hussein. Mr Faroon, described the detention of hundreds of Kurds, saying women were raped by guards and that those who died in prison were buried in shallow graves "which were easy for animals to dig open".
Saddam became angry and agitated when the prosecutor spoke of the rapes. "I can never accept the claim that an Iraqi woman was raped while Saddam is president," he shouted, banging on a podium in front of him and pointing a finger at the lawyers for the prosecution. "How could I walk with my head up? An Iraqi woman raped while Saddam is the leader?"
The former president said that during the 1990 Iraqi entry into Kuwait he heard that a soldier raped an Arab woman. "I ordered him tried and then hanged for three days at the site of the crime," he shouted.
The Anfal offensive was part of the Ba'ath regime's war with the Kurds in the north of the country.
Also on trial are Sabir al-Douri, the former director of military intelligence; Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, who was head of the Iraqi army's 1st Corps, which carried out the Anfal military operation; and Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, then the governor of Mosul.
The two other defendants are Hussein Rashid Mohammed, who was deputy director of operations for the Iraqi military, and Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, at that time the head of military intelligence's eastern regional office.
More than 1,000 survivors and relatives of victims of the Anfal campaign demonstrated in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah yesterday, demanding the death penalty for Saddam. Khadhija Salih, a housewife who lost five brothers and sisters in the crackdown and herself spent a period in prison, said: "Today I will have my justice as I will see Saddam in the court ... If I could, I would have killed him myself with great pleasure."
The brutal Anfal campaign against the Kurds
By Anne Penketh
The US and Britain did nothing to stop Saddam Hussein's Anfal campaign against the Kurds because the Iraqi president was then a bulwark against the Shia revolutionary regime in Iran.
Although human rights groups accused Saddam at the time of committing genocide, criticism from Western governments, including Britain, was muted towards the dictator, then viewed as a vital ally against the Islamic Republic. The lack of criticism from Washington may even have emboldened Saddam to invade Kuwait in 1990.
Saddam unleashed the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988 at the end of Iraq's eight-year war with Iran. Amnesty International estimates that more than 100,000 Kurds in northern Iraq were killed or disappeared. The offensive was under the command of Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, who earned the nickname "Chemical Ali" from the military's use of poison gas against the Kurds. It was the first time any government had used toxic gas against its own people. Anfal, during which hundreds of villages were cleared and local people expelled, comprised eight military offensives and ran from February to September 1988.
On 23 February, the Iraqi army launched its first assault, against Kurdish guerrilla headquarters in Sergalou, along a 40-mile front. Survivors say villagers were warned that if they did not flee, they might be killed or "become the victim of chemicals". During the campaign, the Iraqi troops were accused of a systematic eradication of all Kurdish settlements controlled by guerrillas allied to Iran.Reuse content