The special tribunal established under US auspices in Baghdad began
its second trial of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party
associates. The trial focuses on charges that Hussein authorized bloody massacres
and the use of poison gas against the Kurdish population of northern Iraq during
1988, in a campaign known as “Anfal,” from the Arabic word for “spoils
Along with Hussein, those charged include his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed,
military leader of the Anfal campaign; Sultan Hashem Ahmed, military commander
of the campaign and later defense minister; Saber Abdel Aziz, director of military
intelligence; Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, deputy of operations for the Iraqi
forces; Taher Mohammed al-Ani, governor of the northern city of Mosul; and Farhan
al-Jubari, head of military intelligence in the north.
The charges do not include the single most notorious incident of Hussein’s
rule, the use of poison gas against the Kurdish town of Halabja, in which 8,000
people died. This is to be tried separately.
Like its predecessor, the latest proceeding against Hussein is a gross
violation of international law, which bars an occupying power from establishing
new legal institutions in a conquered country.
From a political standpoint, the trial is an act of the utmost cynicism, since
the Bush administration is guilty of crimes at least as heinous as those of
Hussein. Moreover, in the events of 1988, the US government was a behind-the-scenes
accomplice of Hussein in the Kurdish bloodbath.
The proceedings began August 21, and testimony by survivors of the
Anfal campaign continued through Wednesday, followed by an adjournment until
September 11. The testimony gave a glimpse of the mass suffering inflicted on
the Kurdish people, but the political events surrounding the Anfal campaign,
above all the tacit US support for the massacres, were kept entirely out of
both the proceedings and the press coverage.
Sustaining such a cover-up throughout a lengthy trial, especially during the
period provided to the defense for rebuttal, may prove more difficult. Hussein
has already proven himself able to exploit the vulnerabilities and contradictions
of the posture adopted by the Bush administration and its Baghdad stooges.
There is little argument about what took place in the Kurdish regions of Iraq
in 1987-88, during the last stages of the Iran-Iraq War (a war encouraged by
successive US administrations, which saw Saddam Hussein as an ally who was bleeding
their main antagonist in the region, the Iranian theocracy headed by the Ayatollah
Kurdish pesh merga fighters, working in conjunction with Iran, staged an uprising
in several provinces in the north and seized control in many mountainous areas.
The Baghdad regime struck back with a bloody campaign of reprisals, including
mass shootings, the use of poison gas, the destruction of villages and the uprooting
of much of the Kurdish population, in order to deprive the guerrillas of a sympathetic
base of support. The estimates for the death toll range from 75,000 to as many
Throughout this period, the Reagan administration in the United States maintained
close relations with Baghdad—relations that had been cemented in 1983-84
in a series of visits by Reagan’s special emissary to Saddam Hussein,
the once and future US secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
US intelligence agencies were supplying Iraqi military planners with strategic
and tactical information gathered by spy satellites. This data was used in some
cases to plan Iraqi chemical weapons strikes against Iranian troop concentrations,
which caused devastating casualties in the final year of the war.
So close was the collaboration that when Iraq opened fire on an American warship,
the USS Stark, while it was on routine patrol in the Persian Gulf, the Reagan
administration downplayed the incident.
If it was prepared to ignore the killing of 37 Navy sailors, the US government
was certainly not going to quibble about the slaughter of Kurds. A few perfunctory
statements of concern were delivered to Baghdad, but Saddam Hussein got the
real message: he should do whatever it took to maintain his power against the
The full story of US support for the Iraqi regime remains locked up in CIA
and Pentagon archives. But there is ample evidence that the Reagan administration,
in addition to satellite data and other military intelligence, provided Hussein
with billions of dollars in credits, as well as giving the green light for US
allies in Europe and the Middle East to provide military hardware and aid. American
and European firms supplied Iraq with the essential ingredients for the development
and manufacture of chemical and biological weapons.
In a 2002 article entitled “Who Armed Saddam?” British academic
Glen Rangawala wrote: “During the Anfal campaign, the US escalated its
support for Iraq. It joined in Iraq’s attacks on Iranian facilities, blowing
up two Iranian oil rigs and destroying an Iranian frigate a month after the
Halabja attack. Within two months, senior US officials were encouraging corporate
coordination through an Iraqi state-sponsored forum. The US administration opposed,
and eventually blocked, a US Senate bill that cut off loans to Iraq. The US
approved exports to Iraq of items with dual civilian and military use at double
the rate in the aftermath of Halabja as it did before 1988. Iraqi written guarantees
about civilian use were accepted by the US commerce department, which did not
request licenses and reviews (as it did for many other countries).”
The ongoing trials of Saddam Hussein and his closest associates have nothing
to do with providing justice or accountability for the crimes committed by the
Baathist regime against the Iraqi people. Their purpose is rather to politically
justify the crimes being committed today by the Bush administration against
that same oppressed and now occupied nation.
The American media has focused its coverage of Iraq this week on the evidence
of the victims of the Anfal campaign, while saying nothing about the role of
US officials like Reagan, Rumsfeld and Bush’s own father, then the vice-president,
in supporting and facilitating that bloody repression.
Who is the United States government to be bringing charges against
Saddam Hussein? If an accurate tally could be produced, it would show that more
innocent Iraqis have died as a result of Washington’s actions than as
the result of the actions of the Baathist dictatorship. The death toll would
* One million Iraqis who died in the Iran-Iraq War (and an even greater number
of Iranians), instigated by the Carter administration in 1980 and sustained
by the Reagan administration for eight years
*An estimated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed by bombing and
other direct US military action in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, waged by the
first Bush administration
*One to 1.5 million Iraqis, the majority of them children, who died as a
result of US-imposed economic sanctions that denied Iraq medicines and essential
foodstuffs, as well as medical equipment, a blockade imposed by the first
Bush administration and maintained by the Clinton administration and the second
*The casualties of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the occupation which continues
to this day, with estimates from 100,000 on upwards.
No one would deny that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a bloody, repressive
dictatorship, although that did not stop successive US governments from maintaining
close military and diplomatic relations when it served the interests of American
But any trial in which Hussein plays the main role, while the leaders
of American imperialism posture as the advocates of democracy, justice and human
rights, can only be called a farce and a fraud. It is George W. Bush and his
chief aides and accomplices, in government, in Congress, and elsewhere in the
American ruling elite, who are the most deserving of facing a tribunal for crimes
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