Global Policy Forum

Saddam Trial to Open with Village Massacre


By Rory Carroll

June 7, 2005

A little-known massacre at a village where residents tried to assassinate Saddam Hussein in 1982 will be the focus of the first case in the trial of the former Iraqi president, it emerged yesterday. Dozens of people were killed in reprisal after the president's convoy was fired on as it drove through Dujail, a predominantly Shia farming village 40 miles north of Baghdad. Though the incident happened almost 25 years ago, the availability of documents and witnesses willing to testify has emboldened prosecutors to make it the opening case in the trial.

The special tribunal set up to try Saddam, 68, and his top aides will start hearings within two months, and Dujail will be the first of up to 14 cases against the former dictator, a government spokesman said yesterday. The other cases include chemical attacks against Kurds in the late 1980s, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the suppression of a Shia uprising in 1991, according to a list obtained by the Associated Press. Prosecutors said they had evidence for 500 separate cases but had narrowed them to just over a dozen to speed up the trial.

Branded by opponents as an Arab Stalin for the scale of his alleged crimes, Saddam's legacy in Dujail had been just a footnote in history books. Locals hostile to his Ba'athist regime set up an ambush after a tip-off that his convoy would pass through the area. They fired on the vehicles and apparently killed several guards but failed to wound the president, who was in an armoured car. Within hours, security forces arrived to wreak vengeance, according to survivors. At least 15 people were said to have been executed immediately and 143 others were executed after show trials. Some versions put the final death toll as high as 400, including women, children and babies. Around 1,500 residents were arrested and many spent years in prison. Crops and date palm groves were destroyed as an additional punishment.

The purge was allegedly led by Barzan al-Tikriti, a half-brother of the president who was head of intelligence at the time, Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice-president, and three other senior Ba'athist officials. All five are expected to stand trial alongside Saddam.

Although Dujail is now part of the insurgency heartland, survivors tend to be proud of the attempted assassination and have readily cooperated with prosecutors who hope to directly link the former president to the killings.

Kanan Makiya's seminal book on modern Iraq, Republic of Fear, devoted just two sentences to the event: "The Shia village of Dujail, known for its political militancy and as a stronghold of the Islamic fundamentalist underground, was destroyed after an attempt on Saddam's life only to be promptly rebuilt by the regime. "Both the destruction and the reconstruction established how completely the Ba'ath were in charge."

At least one of the other cases against Saddam concerns the 1987-88 Anfal campaign, which displaced and killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq. The gassing of the village of Halabja, where an estimated 5,000 people died, may form a separate case. Saddam is also expected to be charged with a string of mass executions, including the massacre of 8,000 people from the Barzani tribe, a Kurdish clan to which the current Kurdistan Democratic party leader, Massoud Barzani, belongs.

Saddam has been in jail since December 2003, when US troops dragged him from a hole near his home town of Tikrit. He was expected in the dock in 2006, but the government has accelerated the timetable, saying the trial will discourage insurgents. If the five-judge panel sitting without a jury convicts and sentences him to death, the state will deliver the punishment, the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has said.

Meanwhile, insurgents launched fresh attacks yesterday. A mortar barrage apparently aimed at police stations in the northern town of Mosul killed six people, including two children, US and Iraqi officials said. A suicide car bomber injured three police officers and three bystanders at a checkpoint in Baghdad. Also in the capital, gunmen shot dead an Egyptian with US citizenship who worked on electricity projects.

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