Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Saddam to Answer for Dijail Massacre

Residents of the town where Saddam Hussein ordered bloody reprisals in 1982 are glad to see their case taking centre stage in the war crimes case.
By Awadh al-Taee

Sheikh Ibrahim Jasim al-Khafaji had already lost three brothers by the time the residents of Dijail decided to fight back against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1982. He lost a fourth when Saddam retaliated against the town for an assassination attempt, killing dozens of residents.


When Saddam goes on trial – which could happen as early as October – he will face questions about the Dijail massacre, the first criminal case to be filed against him.


Dijail, about 60 kilometres north of Baghdad, was a stronghold of the Islamic Dawa Party, a Shia movement with links to Iran.


Residents plotted to kill the president when he visited on July 2, 1982, as payback for the execution of 30 Dawa members – three of them al-Khafaji’s brothers.


As Saddam’s convoy was passing the al-Ibrahimiyah school on its way back to Baghdad, 19 men launched an attack from both sides of the street. Three of Saddam’s bodyguards were killed in the firefight while eight of the attackers were shot dead. Saddam, riding in an armoured vehicle, was not injured.


Retribution was swift and harsh. More than 150 residents were killed, while hundreds more were arrested and deported. Bulldozers destroyed the homes and orchards in the town in 10 days.


Al-Khafaji thinks Saddam and other Baath officials charged with the killings, such as Saddam’s half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti, the head of Iraqi intelligence at the time, deserve no less than they gave.


“I call for their immediate execution,” he said.


Other residents too want to see harsh justice done.


“Saddam is already half-dead because he’s in jail,” said Ammar Majid, a teacher at the al-Ibrahimiyah school. “Nothing can finish the job off except for executing him for what he did to Dijail, and to other people too.”


The special tribunal set up to try Saddam and members of his regime will focus on charges related to 14 incidents, including the Anfal campaign in which thousands of Kurds were killed or deported in 1987-88.


There have been calls for a speedy trial but attempts to remove 19 tribunal judges, prosecutors and other staff who are accused of being former Baathists threatened to delay the process.


Ahmad Chalabi, head of a commission to rid the government of former Baathists, headed the campaign for the removals but faced opposition from Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. Chalabi has since given up, with a spokesman saying he didn’t want to delay the trial process.


In the meantime, Saddam’s lawyers continue their opposition to the court, saying it does not have jurisdiction to try him.


Awadh al-Taee is an IWPR trainee in Iraq.