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Saddam Hussein accused prosecution witnesses in his genocide trial Tuesday of sowing division for the benefit of Israel after they testified that his regime's forces detained Kurds in camps where hundreds died of malnutrition.
The ex-president also lashed out at the chief prosecutor, who charged that Saddam ran a police state that kept no records of detainees and camps.
It was the first time in weeks that Saddam was allowed to speak during the session, in contrast to previous hearings when he was ordered out of the courtroom after being accused of making political interjections irrelevant to proceedings.
Saddam spoke twice Tuesday, the first time to refute testimony by two witnesses. They said they were detained, during an offensive against Kurds in 1988, in a camp where conditions were so bad that hundreds died of malnutrition.
"This will only serve the separation," Saddam said, referring to the deepening division among Iraqis amid sectarian fighting.
"The Zionists are the only ones who will benefit from the differences among Iraqis," Saddam added.
The deposed leader later denied claims that he ran a police state.
"Our country and government are real," Saddam said.
"What is unreal and unbelievable are the heads, which are falling in the streets nowadays," Saddam asserted, referring to sectarian violence that has seen beheadings and torture.
The deposed leader was responding to the chief prosecutor, Munqith al-Faroon, whose brother was shot dead late Monday by unidentified gunmen who stormed his Baghdad home.
Al-Faroon interrupted the proceedings to argue against a request made by Saddam to have the court call in a notorious prison warden, named Hajjaj, cited in numerous witness testimonies as having tortured and raped detainees.
"This can't be done," al-Faroon said. He said under Saddam, "there was no real state, there was a police and intelligence state" that kept no record of camps and detainees.
Four witnesses told the court Tuesday that prisoners were starved to death at a detention camp and that their family members have been missing since the late 1980s offensive, codenamed Operation Anfal. Some said that the remains of some relatives were located in mass graves after Saddam's regime was toppled in 2003.
Omar Hassan Omar, 71, said his family disappeared after Iraqi forces attacked his village in 1988. He told the court he was detained with "thousands" of fellow Kurds in a camp where hundreds of people died.
Cross-examining Omar, Saddam asked how many rooms were in the camp, apparently trying to suggest that Omar had exaggerated the number of detainees.
In another instance, Saddam asked another witness if he would be able to guide court officials to the site of a mass grave, where the witness said his wife an "hundreds" of others were buried.
"I can't," answered the witness, Baba Abdullah Rassol, 70. "I'm an old man, I can barely see with one eye and I lost vision in the other one."
Rassol told the court that his nearly 25-day-old baby was starved to death and that prison guards dug holes just three feet away from the detention center to bury some 200 to 300 dead people. He also claimed that he, his sister and his baby were beaten with a cable by Hajjaj, the prison warden.
Earlier, another defendant - Sultan Hashim Al-Tai, who was minister of defense under Saddam - told the court that his lawyer wanted to break ranks with the three-week legal boycott of the trial, but when the judge summoned the attorney, he failed to appear.
Still, members of Saddam's defense team insisted Tuesday they were continuing their boycott of the trial, begun Sept. 24, to protest the removal of the initial chief judge and the refusal to permit non-Iraqi lawyers to attend the hearings.
The back-and-forth was a continuation of the procedural difficulties that have plagued the trial in which Saddam and six members of his regime are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Operation Anfal, which the prosecution says killed about 180,000, mainly civilians. Saddam and one other defendant are also charged with genocide.
The seven face death by hanging if found guilty.
The trial adjourned until Wednesday.
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