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For Kurds, Saddam trial brings chance of revenge

Written by: Staff

SEWSENAN, Iraq, Apr 13 (Reuters) Six-month-old Rizgar Ahmed's body was found with his dead mother's breast still in his mouth. His two-year-old brother Sardar lay dead nearby.

Almost two decades later, they still lie together, one boy on either side of their 39-year-old mother Zainab, buried in a memorial to 86 victims of a gas attack outside their village, Sewsenan in northern Iraq.

They are just three of the more than 100,000 Kurds who died or disappeared in the 1988 Anfal campaign, a brutal seven-month Nazi-style onslaught that still haunts the region and its people.

Plans to try Saddam Hussein for genocide over the Anfal -- which Kurdish leaders say left more than 180,000 dead or missing -- have opened old wounds but also raised hopes of justice.

''It's like being thirsty for water,'' said Omar Fatah, deputy prime minister of Kurdistan.

''Now they are thirsty to see the punishment of Saddam Hussein for what he did to the Kurdish nation. Everyone would like to take revenge by their own hands. But it must be in line with the law. We would be happy to see the death penalty.'' The gas came at about dinner time on March 22, 1988, the day after Kurdish new Year, Nawroz.

As the shells fell, villagers accustomed to bombing and artillery bombardments rushed to bunkers dug into the sides of the ravines running through their lush wheat and barley fields.

HELL SMELLED OF APPLES ''It was like hell. Like doomsday,'' said 76-year-old grandmother Ghazna Mohammed Imam, twisting black beads in her gnarled hands, her damaged eyes constantly streaming.

''When we came out of the shelters, people were lying on the ground everywhere, even the animals were dead. We ran.'' Imam was temporarily blinded by the gas, and wounded in the head by an accompanying artillery barrage. But she dared not seek medical help, afraid of being caught by the army. One eye is blind, her leg hurts and she suffers headaches and anxiety.

The use of a cocktail of mustard and nerve gas took Sewsenan's villagers by surprise.

The bunkers, which had saved them before, this time trapped many as the heavier-than-air gas drifted down. Most survivors were those who had fled uphill, into the stark Kopiqaragh mountains to the south, or closer hills to the east.

''They had no idea, they had no experience of chemical weapons,'' said Ghedian Maghdi, a towering 44-year-old farmer who lost 30-40 relatives, including his wife's mother and sister.

''And the smell of chemical weapons is pleasant, it smells like apples,'' he added.

Maghdi was away when the attack happened, seeking food and other supplies to smuggle into Sewsenan, which lay in a prohibited area which residents were supposed to have left as part of a programme to relocate or kill Kurds.

When it was over, there were too few survivors to collect the dead and wounded. People from neighbouring villages carted them off, treating the wounded with whatever was at hand, often little more than rags, ointment and homemade medicines.

The ''Anfal'', meaning ''spoils of war'', is a term taken from a verse in the Koran that calls for terror to be struck into the hearts of unbelievers.

The campaign devastated Kurdistan, and the fertile mountainous region bordering Turkey and Iran has not recovered economically or emotionally. Infrastructure is still being rebuilt, and the rates of miscarriage and psychological problems are high.

About 4,500 villages were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced, tortured or killed. Most villages affected now have less than half their pre-Anfal population.

Saddam and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, who earned his nickname Chemical Ali for using chemical weapons before and during the Anfal, face charges of genocide over the campaign.

Five others will be charged with crimes against humanity.

Most Kurds appear to want the death penalty for Saddam, and many offer to carry it out personally.

Said 80-year-old Rashid Karim, injured in a chemical attack as he fled through the mountains to Iran: ''It means we are going to get revenge. Revenge for all those whose fate is still not known. I am very happy when I see Saddam sit in jail and I hope they put some petrol on it and set it alight -- he did so much to us.'' REUTERS SHB KP1733

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