Global Policy Forum

The West May Go on Trial with Saddam


If Saddam can go on trial for planting landmines and selling chemical weapons,
so can those who sold them to him.

Aaron Glantz

Inter Press Service
June 18, 2004

If Saddam can go on trial for planting landmines and selling chemical weapons, so can those who sold them to him. A year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the mountains and plains of Northern Iraq are still covered in landmines planted by the former Iraqi dictator's regime during the 1980s. That is when he fought a decade-long war with Iran and many battles with Kurdish guerrillas. The Red Cross has made thousands of synthetic limbs for Iraqi civilians who have lost their arms or legs. Hundreds have been killed.

"We were in the village when we heard the mines go off in the middle of the night," recalls Mohammed Abuznawee, a shepherd who lives near a minefield outside Kirkuk. The Iraqi army mined the area around his village in 1985. "Over 200 sheep broke out of their pen and walked into the minefield in the middle of the night and were killed. Then my brother went out to try to save the flock. He also died."

Iraq did not make any of the landmines Saddam used in his wars. They were all sold to him by Italy, China, the United States, and the former Soviet Union. In Northern Iraq the Italian built mine Valmara is the most plentiful and the most dangerous. But the U.S. built landmine, the M-14 sold to Saddam by the administration of then president Ronald Reagan is also lethal. "It's almost impossible to detect," says Wiyan Abdurrachman of the Kurdish demining organisation Aras. "There's no trigger that we can look for and mine is set off by pressure." Aburrachman is angry that so many governments supported Saddam. "Saddam Hussein didn't have any mines, any ammunition. The only thing he had was money for buying the mines and guns."

The governments of France, Germany and Britain sold chemical agents to Saddam's government. U.S. companies also chipped in. France sold Iraq Mirage fighter jets and the Soviets Mig-29s that were used to deliver the chemical weapons. The U.S. government added key intelligence information to make sure Saddam's planes were not shot down.

"Some day," Abdurrachman says, "those who supplied him will also have to stand trial." But with a possible trial date drawing near it is still not clear whether Saddam's international backers will be called as part of a war crimes trial. Salem Chalabi, the prosecutor picked by the Bush administration is the nephew of former CIA asset Ahmed Chalabi who fell from the Pentagon's grace last month amidst allegations of providing false intelligence to the CIA and spying for Iran. Salem Chalabi has not set out his case yet. Speaking to reporters in Baghdad this week Chalabi said only that he was "putting together" his charges which would be ready shortly.

Kurds hope Chalabi probes deep. "We want Saddam to talk," says Alan Zangana, programme director for the Kurdish Human Rights Watch in San Diego, California. "We want to know from Saddam which weapons he used and where he got them." A lot of journalists have pointed at companies, he said. "They have named French and German and American companies as selling chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein. But we need this information established as fact in a court of law. We need these companies to be pointed out in public." Zangana says Kurds and other Iraqis wronged by Saddam's Ba'ath regime could then sue the companies for damages the way survivors of the Nazi holocaust sued Swiss banks.

Saddam's defence attorneys, Jordanian lawyers Mohammed al-Rashdan and chairman of the Jordan Bar Association Hussain Mjalli have not said whether they plan to call Westerners as part of a trial. Their argument is that since the invasion of Iraq was not approved by the United Nations, it has no legal basis. As such, they argue, the U.S.-led occupation authority has no right to change or cancel the Iraqi constitution.

"Article 40 in the Iraqi constitution stipulates that the head of the state enjoys immunity against persecution," al-Rashdan told the Arab satellite network al-Jazeera. "Iraq, Iraqi people, Iraqi law were hijacked," Mjalli said. "The occupation of Iraq was illegal, so ipso facto everything that follows is illegal." Mohammed al-Rashdan and Hussin Mjalli are also threatening to sue the United States because they have not been allowed to see their client.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Iraq Tribunal
More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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