Massacre Highlights Saddam's Reign of Terror

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 1, 2006— -- Other charges on the docket in the case against former Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein are better-known than the Dujail Massacre.

In both preparation and justification for the Iraq War, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair often referred to the wholesale slaughter of thousands of Kurds and Shiites after the first Gulf War and the March 1988 chemical attack on Halabja, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 5,000 Kurds.

But what's being discussed in court today in Baghdad -- the 1982 Dujail Massacre -- is both a fascinating story and case study of how Saddam ruled Iraq: cruelly, coldly and with a vengeance.

One Day in July 1982

It began on July 8, 1982, in the early months of the Iran-Iraq war, which at that point was proceeding poorly for Saddam.

With an official cameraman in tow, Saddam and his entourage visited Dujail, a majority Shiia town about 35 miles north of Baghdad. There he spoke to a cheering crowd, thanking locals for sending their sons to war. According to footage, Saddam met with a family, patted the head of a small girl, and turned down the offer of a glass of water. All seemed to be going well for this PR event.

On his way out of town, however, Saddam was ambushed. From the cover of palm trees, members of a militant Shiia group, Dawa, fired upon Saddam's entourage.

Saddam turned the convoy around. His security team began tracking down suspects. The cameraman caught some of those moments, in tapes obtained by the Journeyman documentary company and aired on the United Kingdom's Channel 4.

"I'm fasting and was on my way home," pleaded one young man.

Cried another: "Please sir, I'm in the Popular Army."

"Keep them separate and interrogate them," Saddam said.

The dictator again spoke to a crowd. "These small groups imagine they break the relationship between Saddam and the people," he said. "Neither these few shots nor the artillery bombardments will deflect us from the course we are taking."

Channel 4 described the crowd as "hysterically trying to scream their allegiance, knowing the likely fate of those thought to [be] involved in any plot."

'Al Karitha'

Saddam said, "We distinguish between the people of Dujail and a small number of traitors in Dujail."

The people of Dujail disputed that he differentiated between the failed assassins and the townspeople. Saddam's response to the attempted assassination is known as "al karitha" -- the disaster.

Today in court, the prosecution presented documentary evidence to prove the involvement of Saddam and his seven co-defendants -- who include his half-brother and former security chief Barzan Al-Tikriti and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan -- in the exiling, torturing and killing of more than 145 Shiites from Dujail, including an 11-year-old boy.

The prosecution is attempting to prove that all the victims of Dujail were executed without a trial. Its evidence includes 127 death certificates of Dujail residents executed by hanging in the 1980s. Official letters to Saddam indicated that more than 45 Shiites from Dujail had been killed in prison during the interrogation conducted by the Mukhabarat, Saddam's intelligence service, in the early '80s.

In addition, Chief Prosecutor Ja'afar al-Mousawi twice played a 1991 audiotape of a conversation between Saddam and one of his regional leadership members in which he repeated the orders to destroy farmlands in and around Dujail.

Subdued Saddam

Saddam has been surprisingly calm and has made few attempts to defend himself from what these documents state. Saddam had objected to the audiotape, saying it was irrelevant.

Before the session went on a lunch break, Saddam took the stand and spoke, calling for the Iraqi people to unite and not allow their ethnic differences to divide them.

"All Iraqis should unite and become one undefeatable hand against the occupation, while they can still have their own personal differences," Saddam said.

After Chief Judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal Raouf Abdul-Rahman asked Saddam to return to his seat, the former dictator asserted that he was still the president of Iraq according to the law.

"I was your president for 35 years and still am, according to the law. So give me a chance to talk."

Saddam told the court that no one else should be tried for the actions he took as president.

"I'm the one who destroyed the farmlands in Dujail so why do you ask other defendants about it?" Saddam said to the court. "I'm the one who took that decision and referred the suspects to the revolutionary court, and no one could oblige me to do so unless I wanted to."

He also took issue with what he called a "humiliation attempt" by the court against him and his co-defendants in its lack of access to closed bathrooms.

"How am I supposed to use the open toilet while all my colleagues are around me watching?" Hussein said. "Is this the humanity you claim to have? If you are trying to humiliate me, then keep in mind that nothing can humiliate Saddam."

Saddam's chief defense attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, wasn't present in court today. He stormed out of the courtroom on Tuesday, protesting the rejection of an earlier request to remove Abdul-Rahman and al-Mousawi for bias against the defendants.

The court adjourned and will resume March 12.

Haider Hamza contributed additional reporting from inside the courthouse of the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad.

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