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Saddam Hussein opened his second trial with a show of defiance Monday, 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 Monday 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."
When the judge asked Saddam, "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 co-defendants are expected in that case on Oct. 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 al-Majid, 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 indentified himself as "Fighting comrade First Major Gen. Pilot Ali Hassan al-Majid."
The prosecution then began its opening statement, saying "the order (to launch the Anfal campaign) was issued by the defendant Saddam Hussein."
"The goal was clear - to target the people of Kurdistan through killings, forced migration, persecution and denying them their personal freedoms," the prosecutor said.
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