Kurdish leaders in Iraq say they want to be sure prosecutors build the strongest case possible against Saddam Hussein and six of his military commanders. They are charged with genocide in the Anfal military operation against Iraqi Kurds. Prosecutors say 180,000 people were killed. VOA's Brian Padden reports from Irbil, in the heart of the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Dr. Yusif Aziz treated many victims of chemical attacks during the Anfal campaign against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s. "I am one of the witnesses of this place. I have personally smelled the mustard gas. I have treated many people -- hundreds, thousands of people I have treated them."
Dr. Aziz is the minister of human rights for the Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq. He has been working on the government's case against Saddam Hussein and six of his military commanders. They are charged with genocide against the Kurds. Prosecutors say 180,000 people died in the military campaign.
Dr. Aziz says the Kurds do not want revenge. They want justice under the law. "We will use the law against him. Only the law will be the answer of Saddam Hussein."
Dr. Aziz is confident that the evidence is overwhelming -- mass graves, testimony from survivors and official Iraqi government documents ordering mass killings.
But Civil Rights Association Director in Kurdistan Haval Maaroof is unsure about the government's ability to prosecute this case.
"A case like this, it is a genocide. It is like the Holocaust. So, I was expecting more from the prosecution."
Maaroof says there is no clear definition of the crime in Iraqi law.
"We have created the special criminal court to deal with this case, the case of mass killings, which happened in Saddam's regime. But, legally, if we want to define it, we do not have legal articles, or legal text that define it," he says.
He also says the prosecution instead will rely on proving that Saddam violated international human rights accords.
Saddam's lawyers argue that the operation was aimed at wiping out Kurdish separatist guerrillas, who sided with Iran in its war with Iraq.
Dr. Aziz says the prosecution's response concedes that Kurds were fighting for independence. But it maintains the response of the Saddam regime far exceeds what is acceptable, even in a time of war.
"Killing innocent people, as a woman and children. There is not any law in the world that will give you the right to do this," says Aziz.
Maaroof agrees that the abundance of evidence is indisputable. But he says the prosecution needs to make a strong case linking Saddam to the killings.
"We have to look after the chain of command. Who gave the orders? We know that, in Iraq, the only person who could give an order was Saddam Hussein."
Officials expect the trial to last for several months.