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Saddam faces court amid questions over trial
Updated: 2005-10-19 17:22

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein will be tried in a U.S.-backed court in Baghdad on Wednesday for crimes against humanity for allegedly ordering the killing of more than 140 people two decades ago.

Amid security unprecedented even for warring Iraq, the overthrown leader and seven other members of his defunct Baath Party will be tried in Court No. 1 of the Iraqi Special Tribunal inside the capital's fortress-like Green Zone compound.

Two mortar rounds landed outside the Zone about an hour before people began filing into court around 11 a.m. (0800 GMT).

The trial will be presided over by a five-member panel of judges headed by Rizgar Mohammed Amin, an ethnic Kurd from the northern city of Sulaimaniya, U.S. officials said. Saddam is later expected to face genocide charges for killing Kurds.

However, the first hearing may last just hours before the trial is adjourned, possibly for weeks or months. Saddam's lawyer, who said his client was in good spirits on the eve of the trial, is seeking a delay to allow more time to prepare.

Senior Iraqi leaders were in the courthouse in a former Baath Party building, including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi and Hussain al-Shahristani, a nuclear scientist jailed for refusing to work on Saddam's weapons programme.

Both men are from the Shi'ite majority, oppressed by Saddam but now in power under U.S. protection: "It is very important that justice is done and is seen to be done," said Chalabi.

The trial comes two years after Saddam was found hiding in a hole near where he was born, and follows constant calls from millions of Iraqis impatient for him to be brought to justice.

Iraq's government, led by long-time foes of Saddam and seeking popularity ahead of December elections, hopes the trial will boost public morale in a country struggling with the hardships of the insurgency 2-1/2 years after the war began.

Human rights groups have expressed unease about the possibility of "victor's justice", warning that the trial must not only be fair, but be seen to be fair, and raising concerns about the legitimacy of a body set up during U.S. occupation.

It was not clear exactly when the session would begin.


The eyes of the world will be on the trial, which will be televised, probably with a delay, not just to capture the moment that Saddam stands in the dock, but to watch whether Iraq under its new leadership can fairly try its deposed ex-dictator.

If found guilty, Saddam could face death by hanging and according to new statutes governing the tribunal, any sentence would have to be carried out within 30 days of all appeals being exhausted. That means Saddam could be executed before being tried for other crimes such as genocide.

While the former president's day in court has been long awaited by millions of Iraqis and others, it may not last long.

Sources close to the tribunal say the case may be quickly adjourned so the judges, partly trained in Britain over the past year, can study defence motions for a dismissal or delay.

Saddam, 68, may not speak other than to confirm his name when charges are read out. At a pre-trial hearing in July last year he defiantly gave his occupation as "president of Iraq".

In a statement posted on the Internet on Tuesday, people calling themselves members of the Baath Party urged Saddam's followers to rise up and defy the court with gunfire.

In Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, around two dozen young men rallied and chanted for Saddam, shouting "Long Live Saddam Hussein" and carrying banners with slogans like "Down with the occupation and the puppet government".

"The trial is unfair," said student Dawud Farham, aged 18. "They should put on trial those who are tearing apart Iraq and its people."

In court, Saddam and his co-defendants will face a five-judge panel sitting on a raised dais behind court clerks. A curtain will protect the identity of witnesses, and bullet-proof glass will separate the few observers from the court.


Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam's chief lawyer, said on Tuesday that his client was calm and confident of his innocence.

An Iraqi with little experience of arguing major cases, such as those involving alleged crimes against humanity, Dulaimi has said he intends to challenge the legitimacy of the court.

The defence team has said he will present a dossier of 122 points designed to show that the court, set up by Americans, does not have jurisdiction over Saddam and is illegal.

He will also ask for more time to study the more than 800 pages of evidence collected by investigators over the past two years and which the defence team received just 45 days ago.

He may also argue that Saddam had presidential immunity.

The charges stem from events that took place on July 8, 1982, when a group of young men linked to the Shi'ite Dawa Party attempted to assassinate Saddam as his armoured motorcade passed through Dujail, a town about 60 km (35 miles) north of Baghdad.

In retaliation for the botched attempt on his life, prosecutors will try to show that Saddam ordered his henchmen to hunt down, torture and kill scores of men from the town, not just immediately after that day, but in the years that followed.

Women and children were also alleged to have been forcibly removed from Dujail, taken to Abu Ghraib prison and later sent to an internment camp in the desert near the border with Saudi Arabia where many ultimately "disappeared".

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