/ 30 November 2006

Expert: Saddam’s forces filled mass graves with children

Iraqi troops shot kneeling mothers and young children in the head and dumped them into mass graves by the score, a forensic expert told ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial on Thursday.

Showing pictures of three mass graves found around Iraq since the 2003 United States invasion, American expert Michael Trimble said that most of the dead at these sites were Kurdish children and women killed during Saddam’s Anfal campaign.

Thursday’s hearing began with the harrowing testimony of Trimble, the head of the mass-graves investigation unit at the Iraqi High Tribunal, a government court in Baghdad trying former regime officials.

More than 120 bodies were discovered in one grave found in Iraq’s northern province of Nineveh, the court heard.

”All these individuals were executed by gunshot. There were no adult males. There were 25 adult females, and I would call your attention to the fact there were 98 children,” Trimble said.

”In all these graves 90% of the children are less than 13 years of age,” he said, adding that one was a child of six to 12 months, ”shot in the back of his head as his mother held him in her arms”.

Trimble said the mother was kneeling when shot, with the bullet hole in the top of her head. ”You can see that projectile came out of that individual’s right eye,” he explained.

He also showed a picture of the body of a young girl wearing a head scarf, between seven and 12-years-old, ”shot in the back of the head”.

Most of the dead were shot either standing or kneeling next to the graves.

Trimble showed a picture of a pregnant woman of about 30 to 40 years of age, now a gruesomely twisted skeleton entombing the brittle remains of a tiny foetus.

He spoke on the second day of testimony by expert witnesses as prosecutors attempt to build an overwhelming body of evidence of the deliberate mass slaughter of Kurdish civilians by Iraqi forces.

Saddam and six co-defendants are accused of being responsible for the killing of 182 000 Kurds in 1988, when government troops swept through Kurdistan, burning and bombing thousands of villages.

Saddam and his former aides say the Anfal campaign was a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against Kurdish separatists at a time when the country was locked in war with neighbouring Iran.

The accused — including Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as ”Chemical Ali” — all face the death penalty if convicted.

Saddam and Majid are the only defendants facing a charge of genocide.

On Thursday lawyers of four defendants were present while those of Saddam, Chemical Ali and Farhan al-Juburi stayed away.

Juburi’s lawyer Badie Aref was on Wednesday ejected from the court by the chief judge for violating professional conduct.

The judge later recalled him at the request of Juburi, former head of military intelligence in northern Iraq.

Judge Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifah and Aref had clashed over the manner in which the lawyer was addressing the court, especially the prosecutors.

Aref has been the most vocal of the defence lawyers, subjecting almost all the witnesses presented by the prosecution since the trial started on August 21 to badgering cross-examination.

Saddam’s trials, including the previous one in which he was handed a death sentence, have been marred by chaotic sessions with the accused and their attorneys often ejected from the courtroom.

On Tuesday, a working party of the United Nations Human Rights Council said the first trial had fallen so far short of international standards that Saddam’s detention was ”arbitrary”.

The UN body urged the Iraqi government ”to refrain from carrying out the sentence of death by hanging imposed in a proceeding which does not meet applicable standards of a fair trial”. — Sapa-AFP