On the eve of his trial, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has reportedly confessed to murder and playing a role in the massacre of thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s.
Iraqi president Jalal Talabani made the startling revelation on Iraqi television, according to a report by The Associated Press, saying that he had been given the information by a judge investigating the case against Hussein. Talabani said the judge was "able to extract confessions from Saddam's mouth," including ones about "executions" that Hussein personally ordered.
Talabani, who is of Kurdish descent, gave as an example "Anfal," the codename for a 1987-1988 campaign by Hussein that Kurds say claimed the lives of 182,000 of their people as well as "dozens" of Kurdish villages (see "Who Are The Kurds?"). Among those villages was Halabja, where thousands of Kurds were gassed in 1988.
Hussein, who is slated to go on trial on October 19 for his alleged role in the 1982 massacre of Shiites in Dujail, Iraq, made no such confession, according to one of his legal consultants. Abdel Haq Alani said Hussein did not make any confessions on Monday when he met with his Iraqi lawyer. "Is this the fabrication of Talabani or what? Let's not have a trial on TV. Let the court of law, not the media, make its ruling on this," Alani said.
According to the AP, the details of the confession are unclear. It's not known whether Hussein thought he was admitting to a crime, or just acknowledging having issued orders he thought were legal, which would have to be determined in a trial. Operation Anfal occurred during Iraq's war with Iran, which the Iraqi government believed had ties to Iraqi Kurds.
Hussein is facing trial for each alleged offense, though the Dujail case — in which he is facing the death penalty if convicted — is the only one recommended for trial to date. His former chief lawyer, Ziad Khasawneh, said Hussein could still face the death penalty if he confessed, but he could be spared a full trial if he admitted to the charges.
Saddam has been in U.S. custody in Baghdad since his capture in December 2003, eight months after his regime was overthrown by U.S. forces (see "Iraqis Celebrate, Loot Now That Hussein's Regime Appears To Be Over").