BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi authorities charged Saddam Hussein with genocide Tuesday, accusing him of trying to exterminate the Kurds in a 1980s campaign that killed an estimated 100,000 -- the first move to prosecute him for the major human rights violations that the United States cited to help justify its invasion.
The former Iraqi president returns to court today in his current 6-month-old trial, facing a possible death sentence if convicted in the killings of more than 140 Shiites. Defense lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi said Saddam plans to make a statement to the court.
But that case involves a relatively small number of victims, and the scope of the allegation pales in comparison to the crackdown against the Kurds or the suppression of the Shiite uprising in south Iraq in 1991.
Investigative judge Raid Juhi told reporters he submitted the new case against Saddam and six co-defendants to the Iraqi High Tribunal -- a legal step that is the equivalent of an indictment under Iraqi law.
His move paves the way for a second trial, which could begin any time after 45 days. Juhi said charges also include crimes against humanity.
Legal experts said the decision to accuse Saddam of genocide is controversial because the charge is difficult to prove. An international convention following the Nazi Holocaust of World War II defined genocide as an effort "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."
The latest charges involve Saddam's alleged role in Operation Anfal, the 1988 military campaign launched in the final months of the war with Iran to crush independence-minded Kurdish militias and clear Kurds from the sensitive Iranian border area of northern Iraq.
Saddam had accused Kurdish militias of ties to Iran. Thousands of Kurdish villages were razed and their inhabitants either killed or displaced.
A memo released by the tribunal said the Anfal campaign included "savage military attacks on civilians," including "the use of mustard gas and nerve agents ... to kill and maim rural villagers and to drive them out of their homes."
"These people were subjected to forced displacement and illegal detention involving thousands of civilians," Juhi said. "They were placed in different detention centers. The villages were destroyed and burned. Homes and houses of worshippers and buildings of civilians were leveled without reason or a military requirement."
The operations against the Kurds included the March 1988 gas attack on the village of Halabja in which 5,000 people, including women and children, died. However, Juhi told The Associated Press that the Halabja attack would be prosecuted separately and was not considered part of the charges filed Tuesday.
Others accused in the Anfal case include Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, or "Chemical Ali"; former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad; former intelligence chief Saber Abdul Aziz al-Douri; former Republican Guard commander Hussein al-Tikriti; former Nineveh provincial Gov. Taher Tafwiq al-Ani; and former top military commander Farhan Mutlaq al-Jubouri.
Saddam and seven others have been on trial since Oct. 19 for the deaths of Shiite Muslims following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail.
None of Saddam's co-defendants in the Dujail case is included in the latest charges. Iraqi authorities chose to try Saddam separately for various alleged crimes rather than lump all the cases together.
The Dujail trial was the first of what Iraqi authorities say could be up to a dozen proceedings. Saddam could face death by hanging if convicted in the Dujail case. But President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said he doubted any sentence would be carried out until all trials were complete -- a process likely to take years.
Michael Scharf, director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University, said he believed genocide may be hard to prove because Kurds who left their villages were spared and because the area where the operation occurred was "reportedly used as a base of anti-government operations by insurgents allied with Iran."
"Thus Saddam may have desired to clear it for strategic rather than genocidal reasons," Scharf said in an e-mail.
U.N. tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have accused at least 49 people of genocide, convicting 24 but acquitting 10. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was among the remaining six accused of genocide but he died last month before the end of his trial.
In December, a Dutch court sentenced chemicals merchant Frans van Anraat to 15 years in prison for selling Saddam's regime the chemicals used in attacks on the Kurds. The ruling, the first ever dealing with atrocities under Saddam, concluded that the attacks constituted genocide.
The court had no jurisdiction to try Saddam, but prosecutors named Saddam and "Chemical Ali" as coconspirators. The Iraqi tribunal has access to several weeks of testimony and evidence presented in that trial.
One document was a government decree said to have been signed by Saddam on June 20, 1987, ordering "special artillery bombs to kill as many people as possible" in the Kurdish area. Special artillery, Dutch prosecutors said, meant chemical weapons.
"Chemical Ali" was heard in an April 21, 1988, audio clip ordering that people caught in Kurdish areas "have to be destroyed ... must have their heads shot off." In another radio fragment, he said: "I will attack them with chemical weapons and kill them all."