Saddam Hussein opened his second Baghdad trial with a show of defiance yesterday, refusing to enter a plea on charges of genocide and war crimes connected to his scorched-earth offensive against Kurds nearly two decades ago.
The trial opens a new legal chapter for the ousted Iraqi leader, who once again faces a possible death penalty for the deaths of tens of thousands of Kurds during the Iraqi army's "Operation Anfal" - Arabic for "spoils of war".
The 1987-88 crackdown was aimed at crushing independence-minded Kurdish militias and clearing all Kurds from the northern region along the border with Iran. Saddam accused the Kurds of helping Iran in its war with Iraq.
Kurdish survivors say many villages were razed and countless young men disappeared.
They also accuse the army of using prohibited mustard gas and nerve agents, but the trial does not deal with the most notorious gassing - the March 1988 attack on Halabja that killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds. That incident will be part of a separate investigation by the Iraqi High Tribunal.
Saddam, wearing a black suit and white shirt, was the first defendant called into the court as the trial's first session began this morning. When chief judge Abdullah al-Amiri asked Saddam to identify himself for the record, Saddam retorted: "You know me."
Al-Amiri said it was the law that defendants had to identify themselves. "Do you respect this law?" he asked Saddam.
"This is the law of the occupation," Saddam replied, then identified himself as "the president of the republic and commander in chief of the armed forces."
The judge told Saddam, "This trial is on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Are you innocent or guilty."
Saddam replied, "That would require volumes of books." Al-Amiri ordered a plea of innocent entered into the record.
The proceedings are taking place in the same courtroom where Saddam spent months jousting with the judges in his turbulent first trial.
That case was over the killings of more than 148 Shiite Muslims from the town of Dujail in a crackdown launched after a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam.
Verdicts for Saddam and seven codefendants are expected in that case on October 16.
The Dujail trial was plagued by frequent outbursts by Saddam and his co-defendants, who repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of the tribunal, saying it was created by the Americans, whose forces swept Saddam's regime out of power in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Saddam appeared ready to show the same defiance in his new trial - as did his top co-defendant, Ali Hassan alMajid, who allegedly led Operation Anfal became known as "Chemical Ali" for the use of poison gas.
Al-Majid walked into the court, using a cane and wearing a red headscarf, and proudly identified himself as "Fighting comrade First Major General Pilot Ali Hassan al-Majid".
Al-Majid also refused to give a plea, so a plea of innocent was entered for him.
The other defendants pleaded innocent.
For Kurds, the launch of the trial was their chance to taste vengeance - just as the Dujail trial was for Shiites.
More than 1,000 survivors and relatives of victims of the Anfal campaign demonstrated in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah yesterday, demanding death for Saddam.
The nine-month-long Dujail proceedings were frequently stormy, and halfway through the chief judge was replaced amid criticisms he was too lenient over Saddam's outbursts.
Three defence lawyers also were assassinated during the trial.
Operation Anfal charges
The names, titles and charges against the seven defendants tried in the Operation Anfal case. All the charges relate to the lead-up and execution of the Anfal campaign against Kurds during 1987 and 1988:
* Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq. Charged with genocide, war crimes related to an internal armed conflict and with crimes against humanity;
* Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam's cousin, also known as "Chemical Ali" because of his alleged use of chemical weapons. The former head of the Baath Party's Northern Bureau Command. Charged with genocide, war crimes related to an internal armed conflict and with crimes against humanity;
* Sabir al-Douri, Director of Military Intelligence. Charged with war crimes related to an internal armed conflict and with crimes against humanity;
* Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, the defence minister at the time of the fall of Saddam's regime in 2003. At the time of the Anfal campaign was the commander of Task Force Anfal and head of the Iraqi Army 1st Corps. Charged with war crimes related to an internal armed conflict and with crimes against humanity;
* Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, former governor of Mosul and head of the Northern Affairs Committee. Charged with war crimes related to an internal armed conflict and with crimes against humanity;
* Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi Armed Forces. Charged with war crimes related to an internal armed conflict and with crimes against humanity;
* Farhan Mutlaq Saleh, former head of Military Intelligence's Eastern Regional Office. Charged with war crimes related to an internal armed conflict and with crimes against humanity.