A Dutch court began hearing a suit Wednesday filed by 16 Iraqi Kurds seeking compensation from a businessman who sold chemicals to Saddam Hussein's regime.
The chemicals were used for making poison gas that was unleashed on Iranians and Kurds, including relatives of the plaintiffs, according to the claim.
The businessman, Frans van Anraat, was convicted of war crimes in his native Netherlands and sentenced to 16 1/2 years in prison.
The victims' lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, said she would discuss her written filings in the case at the hearing in The Hague.
She said the suit is strong, given that Van Anraat's 2005 conviction has been upheld by the Dutch Supreme Court. However, recovering damages will be difficult.
Van Anraat says he spent all his money fleeing from country to country after Saddam's regime fell.
Prosecutors in Van Anraat's criminal case are still trying to trace whether he may have hidden assets.
"He made quite a bit of profit selling chemicals in the 1980s, but it's very difficult to know how much of that is left," Zegveld said. "We may have to wait and see how he supports himself once he comes free."
Now 67, Van Anraat could be released as early as 2014 if he wins time off for good behavior.
Neither he nor the victims will appear in court Wednesday.
The plaintiffs include survivors of Saddam's infamous March 1988 gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja, Iraq, in which an estimated 5,600 civilians were killed.
Saddam, then Iraq's dictator, ordered the Halabja attack as part of a scorched-earth campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north, which was seen as aiding Iran in the final months of its war with Iraq.
Van Anraat was Iraq's sole supplier of a chemical called TDG, or thiodiglycol, for its mustard gas production program.
Judges said he knew the chemicals might well be used for war crimes, but sold more than 1,000 tons to Saddam anyway, motivated by greed. Van Anraat continued selling the chemicals even after learning of the Halabja attack.
Judges said he showed no remorse.