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Iraq Transition

Hussein refuses to enter plea in genocide trial

Anfal campaign included deadly assaults on Kurds


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Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein went on trial Monday for genocide and crimes against humanity in the so-called Anfal campaign, the deadly assaults in 1988 in the Kurdish region that included the former regime's alleged use of poison gas.

Taking a defiant tone early in the proceedings, Hussein refused to enter a plea in the case, engaging in a combative exchange with chief judge Abdulah Ali Aloush.

The judge had a plea of "innocent" entered on behalf of the former Iraqi leader. (Watch Hussein's defiance and the charges he faces -- 2:26)

The trial adjourned around 5 p.m. (9 a.m. ET).

It is believed that about 100,000 Kurds were killed and 3,000 villages destroyed in the operation. Those who survived the mass murder were illegally detained and later executed.

Hussein and six co-defendants -- including Ali Hassan al-Majeed, a former Iraqi general known as "Chemical Ali" -- are on trial in the Anfal case. The head judge also entered an "innocent" plea for al-Majeed.

All face charges of war crimes related to an internal armed conflict and crimes against humanity.

Hussein and al-Majeed have been charged with genocide.

The other defendants in the Anfal case are Sultan Hashem Ahmed, the military commander of the campaign; Saber Abdel Aziz, the director of military intelligence during the campaign; Hussein Rashid, the deputy of operations for Iraqi forces at the time; Taher Ani, a former governor of Mosul; and Farhan Jubouri, former head of military intelligence in northern Iraq.

"Anfal" -- which means "spoils" in Arabic -- is a term from the eighth chapter, or sura, of the Quran, the sacred Muslim book. (Watch survivors of Anfal -- 2:25)

Five native Iraqi judges of Shiite and Kurdish origin will preside over the tribunal, created in 2003 to prosecute members of the former Iraqi regime who are alleged to have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the violation of certain Iraqi laws.

As the trial went into the afternoon, Hussein asked the judge for permission to leave the room. When he returned a few minutes later, al-Majeed and another co-defendant stood up in respect. The judge yelled at the defendants twice to sit back down, while Hussein smiled.

A U.S. official close to the proceeding said the trial is expected to be completed by mid-December, with the court prepared to work three to four days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with time off every so often.

The prosecution is expected to call 120 to 140 witnesses, and the defense must provide its list of witnesses by the end of October, the official said.

Estimates of the number of deaths in the Anfal operation range from 50,000 to nearly 200,000, and Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government said that "for decades to come, this horrific period of their history will remain in the collective memory of the people of Kurdistan." (Full story)

Kurds "continue to live with the legacy of suffering and bodies continue to be unearthed from mass graves," the Kurdish Regional Government said.

"The crimes have left behind a generation of women who lost their husbands, and children who lost their fathers, uncles and grandfathers.

"The Iraqi government's acts have resulted in illnesses from chemical weapons exposure, unusually high rates of cancer, large numbers of internally displaced persons, and families still fighting to reclaim their homes and lands."

The regional government says it "has sought and will continue to seek justice for the victims through legal, democratic and transparent means" and it "demands that the Iraqi government compensate the victims of the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein's government, as provided for in the constitution of Iraq."

CNN's Joe Sterling, Nicky Robertson and Octavia Nasr contributed to this report.

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