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Iraq: The Al-Dujayl Massacre

  • Kathleen Ridolfo --> A protester in Baghdad carries a picture of a relative killed at Al-Dujayl Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and seven of his associates went on trial on 19 October on charges of crimes against humanity for the regime's role in the deaths of 143 residents from the town of Al-Dujayl, and the imprisonment of 1,500 others following a botched assassination attempt against Hussein there on 8 July 1982. Following the arrests and deportations, the regime leveled the town.

Al-Dujayl, located some 80 kilometers north of Baghdad, was a Shi'ite town located in a predominantly Sunni region of the country. Hussein's visit took place during Ramadan, and at a time when Iraq was two years into its eight-year war with Iran.

A number of media outlets have gained access to a videotape recorded by Hussein's personal cameraman on that day. According to the video and personal accounts of Al-Dujayl residents, children were pulled from school to line the streets in anticipation of Hussein's visit. Workers were also ordered into the streets, as was typical of the Ba'athist regime.

The video depicts crowds greeting Hussein's convoy, as Hussein exited his vehicle to speak with locals. Hussein is also shown inside the residence of a local woman, who offers him a glass of water, which he declines. Other footage shows Hussein addressing the crowd from the roof of the local Ba'ath Party headquarters about the war with Iran.

According to media accounts, Hussein returned to his vehicle, which was subsequently ambushed as it drove past orchards that lined the streets of the town. The convoy, several vehicles long, returned fire, and Hussein was unharmed in the attack.

Hussein promptly returned to the town center and addressed local residents, saying: "Neither these few shots nor the artillery bombardments will deflect us from the course we are taking." "We will distinguish between the people of Al-Dujayl and a small number of traitors in Al-Dujayl," he added. He implies that the attacks are related to the war with Iran.

Hussein maintained his composure on the video, and was seen questioning local residents about the attack. "Where were you going?" he asked one man. "I am fasting and was on my way to my house," the man replied.

A second man is seen telling Hussein: "Please, sir, I am in the Popular Army." Hussein then tells his guards, "Keep them separate and interrogate them."

Residents have said that following the events depicted in the videotape, the regime began arresting and even killing local residents in their homes. Helicopter gun ships bombed the town. Date-palm groves were destroyed, houses leveled.

Men were the first to be arrested. Many were taken away and never seen again. Others were arrested along with women and children and eventually transferred to Abu Ghurayb Prison in Baghdad. Two years later, the prisoners from Al-Dujayl were transferred to prison camps in the Iraq's southwestern desert. Victims said they remained in the desert for two to three years, before being released.

Many survivors did not know the fate of their missing loved ones until after the fall of the Hussein regime in 2003, when documents were found in the files of Hussein's security services in Baghdad. Among the documents is a decree issued by Awad Hamad Bandar Sa'dun, chief judge of the Revolutionary Court and signed by Hussein on 23 July 1985 authorizing the execution of 143 residents from Al-Dujayl. Sa'dun is also on trial.

The other defendants include then-intelligence chief and Hussein's half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti; former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan; Abdallah Kazim al-Ruwayid; Ali Dayah Ali, Muhammad Azzawi al-Ali; and Mizhar Abdallah al-Ruwayid.

See also:

Human Rights Watch Fears Justice May Not Be Served By Saddam's Trial

Saddam Hussein's Trial Could Draw Line Under An Era