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Kurds tell Saddam trial about time of horror in late 1980s

Kurdish witnesses described poison gas attacks, air strikes and prison abuse at Saddam Hussein's genocide trial Thursday, a day after Iraq's prime minister said the ousted leader's execution would defuse the insurgency.

Kurdish witnesses described poison gas attacks, air strikes and prison abuse at Saddam Hussein's genocide trial Thursday, a day after Iraq's prime minister said the ousted leader's execution would defuse the insurgency.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's remarks revealed his government's frustration in efforts to quell attacks by Sunni Arabs, some of whom are believed to be affiliated with Saddam's disbanded Baath Party.

After meeting two top Shiite clerics Wednesday in Najaf, al-Maliki said he hoped Saddam's Kurdish genocide trial, which began Aug. 21, would end quickly.

He also said he hoped that "a death sentence will be passed against this criminal tyrant, his aides and the criminals who worked with him….

"Definitely, with his execution, those betting on returning to power under the banner of Saddam and the Baath [Party] will lose," al-Maliki told reporters.

Saddam's supporters have said his trials are unfair and accused the new Iraqi government of interfering in the judicial process— charges Iraq's leaders deny.

180,000 may have died in offensive

The former Iraqi leader and six co-defendants are on trial for their roles in Operation Anfal, a military offensive against the Kurds in 1987-88. Prosecutors say 180,000 Kurds were killed and hundreds of villages destroyed.

Saddam and another defendant are charged with genocide, but all seven could face the death penalty if convicted.

The ex-president also faces death by hanging in his first trial, in connection with the deaths of 148 Shiite villagers in Dujail after an assassination attempt in 1982. A verdict in that trial is expected early next month.

In court Thursday, two Kurdish witnesses testified that villagers fled in panic after a chemical weapons attack on northern Iraq in 1988. Some took refuge in the mountains where Iraqi air force planes bombed them, they said.

'People in my village were screaming'

"People in my village were screaming that they were contaminated by chemical weapons," 79-year-old Abdullah Saeed said, recalling how clouds of smoke drifted toward his home after Saddam's forces allegedly bombed two villages in April 1988.

"We loaded children, women and other persons infected with chemical weapons onto three trucks and fled to another village," he said in Kurdish, through an Arabic interpreter.

Saeed said Saddam's forces stopped them along the road and took them to a detention facility, where 1,800 people— out of 7,000 Kurds imprisoned there— allegedly died of malnutrition. He said the figure was based on a document stolen from prison records.

The trial has adjourned until Oct. 30.

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