Saddam's trial will start Wednesday and his lawyer plans to seek a three-month adjournment to challenge the court's competence to hear the case. All I can say is a death sentence is indeed too merciful for him: Saddam Atrocities Go Beyond Formal Charges
What Lateef Faraj remembers most about his sister is her smile, a sweet smile that lit up her face 17 years ago as he read her a poem he wrote for their elusive homeland of Kurdistan.
He never saw that smile again.
Faraj's sister, grandmother and 12 other relatives were among an estimated 180,000 people who perished in Operation Anfal, a scorched-earth offensive launched by Saddam Hussein's regime.
When Saddam appears in court Wednesday, he will be tried for a lesser-known 1982 massacre in Dujail, a heavily Shiite Muslim town north of Baghdad. About 150 people were killed after Shiite militants there failed to assassinate him.
Iraqi investigators who prepared for Saddam's trial say they chose the Dujail massacre because its relatively limited scope meant the case could be put together quickly and it afforded the best chance for swift conviction.
But investigations into about a dozen cases against Saddam, including larger-scale atrocities, are under way. Some are expected to be presented for trial soon.
Prominent among them is Anfal, the gassing of Kurds in Halabja in 1988, the killing of members of political and religious parties, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the suppression of uprisings by Kurds and Shiites in 1991.
Faraj still recalls the last day he saw his sister Leila, 15. He even remembers the poem:
"Oh, young woman, I am singing for the snow and the mountains. If you want me to sing for you, then pray to God to let the snow fall and to preserve the mountains," he recited in Kurdish.
It was April 10, 1988, and Faraj, then 18, had to leave his Kurdish village of Saydan, near the northern city of Kirkuk, for school in Chamchamal, further north.
"When will you return home?" Leila asked as she saw him off.
"Tomorrow or the day after," Faraj replied.
But Operation Anfal reached the village before he did, and Faraj never set foot there again until after Saddam's ouster in 2003.
Saddam's military started the campaign in February 1988, sending troops across northern Iraq to raze thousands of villages in a crackdown on Kurds fighting for independence or autonomy and accused of supporting Iran and its 1980-88 war with Iraq. Anfal happened in several stages during the late 1980s. Troops demolished homes, uprooted residents and killed men taken from their families.
Only a few days before the troops reached Saydan, Faraj heard his village had been declared off-limits. A government newspaper carried a warning: "Those who stay in the prohibited areas will be killed," Faraj said.
"I knew that Anfal was coming to our area, but not that fast," he said in a phone interview from Kirkuk.
The Anfal campaign lasted until September 1988. Fifteen years later, after Saddam's regime collapsed, Faraj traveled across the country scouring one mass grave after another.
"I was looking for the honor and identity of my people," he said. "I left no stone unturned."
He found documents, photos, watches and clothes of other victims, but none belonging to his sister. He never found her body, although skeletons and IDs from mass graves are among the ample evidence prosecutors have been gathering.
Faraj said he wished Saddam's first trial had been over the notorious attack on Kurds in the town of Halabja, which killed an estimated 5,000 people when Iraqi troops dropped poison gas bombs.
Among those victims was the grandfather of Hardy Mahdi.
Months before the March 16, 1988 attack, Mahdi, then 5, and his parents fled to Iran. His grandparents stayed behind.
One day, his grandfather ventured out of the bomb shelter, never to be seen again. For years, the family refused to believe he was dead.
"I cry whenever my grandmother recounts that day, a day filled with sad scenes," Mahdi said.
One of the iconic images of that day shows a Kurdish man crouched over his baby, trying to shield the boy from the gas. Both father and son died.
"Saddam and his people take lightly the tears of mothers and sisters. Wherever Saddam is, there is always death, injustice and hunger," said Mohammed Najm, 35, a Shiite whose brother Ahmed disappeared 10 years ago after being accused of belonging to a religious party opposed to Saddam's regime.
"My brother just used to pray and go to mosque. He had no affiliation with any political group," Najm said.
Security agents stormed Najm's home before dawn in 1995. Ahmed was out of town, so agents arrested another brother as a bargaining chip and threatened to return for the rest of the family. "You're traitors and don't deserve to live in Iraq," Najm recalled the security forces saying.
The imprisoned brother was tortured and held for over a month until Ahmed turned himself in. Ahmed's whereabouts remain unknown.
Other charges against Saddam include:
_Events of 1991, when Saddam's troops suppressed Shiite and Kurdish uprisings after being driven from Kuwait in the U.S.-led Gulf War.
_Forced emigration of the Fayli Kurds, thousands of Shiite Kurds pushed from northern Iraq into Iran.
_The execution of 8,000 members of the Barzani tribe, a Kurdish clan to which the Kurdistan Democratic Party leader, Massoud Barzani, belongs.
_The drying of southern marshes after the 1991 Shiite uprising. Thousands of Shiites lived in the area, which became an arid wasteland.
Najm said he wants to see Saddam dead.
"Saddam needs no trial. He needs a guillotine," he said.
But Faraj said execution might turn Saddam into a hero.
"A death sentence is too merciful. It is not enough revenge from a person who has killed all these people," he said. "I hope that he stays in prison and dies every day of psychological torture."