"The indictment has been sent through the Foreign Ministry. I presume it has been received," Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad said on Tuesday.

 

"The plaintiff is the entire Iranian nation. The crimes have affected all families," he said, promising that "in future other documents about these crimes will be submitted".

 

He was speaking the day before the former Iraqi ruler wasto appear in court in Baghdad for what could be the first of several trials for atrocities he allegedly ordered and directed during his decades in power.

 

"It is about Saddam's crimes and not reparations, which is an Iraqi government issue," Karimirad said, referring to the compensation Tehran still claims for what Iranians call the "imposed war".

 

Iran and Iraq fought a devastating war from 1980-1988, after what Iranians saw as a bid by Saddam to profit from its neighbour's revolutionary turmoil by making a land grab in the oil-rich southwest of Iran.

 

Costly conflict

 

The conflict cost the lives of up to a million people, most of them Iranians, and involved the use of nerve gas and other chemical weapons by Iraqi troops.

 

Karimirad described the indictment - the result of months of work and trawling through the archives of Iran's intelligence services and armed forces - as "the people of Iran versus Saddam and his collaborators".

 

Teheran says the plaintiff is the
entire Iranian nation

He said the complaints included "bombing schools, mosques, houses, and using chemical weapons... genocide, crimes against humanity, violating international conventions such those of Geneva and The Hague ... violating all Islamic and ethical principles" as well as "killing clerics, women, children and innocent people".

 

Iran has complained about plans for the former president's trial, arguing the charges so far levelled against him were insufficient.

 

"Saddam's crimes are so great that I doubt this tribunal will be able to deal with them," Iran's deputy attorney-general Ghorban-Ali Dorri Najafabadi said last week.

 

Charges

 

Saddam is due to be first tried over the massacre of Shia villagers in 1982 - allegedly carried out as revenge for an attempt on his life.

 

He faces seven preliminary charges including the 1982 killings, crushing the Kurdish and Shia rebellions after the 1991 Gulf War, killing political opponents over 30 years, massacring members of the Kurdish Barzani tribe in 1983, killing religious leaders in 1974, invading Kuwait in 1990, and gassing Kurds in the northeastern town of Halabja in 1988.

 

"There is sufficient evidence to prove Saddam violated international treaties"

Jamal Karimrad,
Iranian Justice Minister

So far Saddam has not been charged with actions against Iran during the 1980-88 war.

 

Iran wants the court to include Saddam's invasion of Iran in the list of charges, Karimirad said.

 

Karimirad said Saddam was a war criminal who should be brought to justice for using chemical weapons against Iranians, including civilians, in Sardasht, western Iran.

 

Karimirad said the Sardasht attack was similar to Saddam's gassing of the Kurds in Halabja.

 

"There is sufficient evidence to prove Saddam violated international treaties," Karimirad said.

 

Death penalty?

 

Saddam is charged along with three former top lieutenants and four local Baath party officials. All face the death penalty if found guilty.

 

Among other issues, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed unease about limits on the ability of the accused to mount a defence, the burden of proof, political influence over the court and use of the death penalty.

 

Talabani (R): Saddam deserves
to be executed 20 times a day

According to new statutes governing the court, which have yet to be officially introduced, the accused can be convicted on the "satisfaction" of the judges. Guilt does not have to be shown "beyond reasonable doubt", as most statutes demand.

 

"We have grave concerns that the court will not provide the fair trial guarantees required by international law," Richard Dicker, the director of Human Rights Watch's international justice programme, said in a report released last week.

 

For more than a year, the tribunal has been dogged by controversy and allegations of political interference.

 

Salem Chalabi, the nephew of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, was appointed by the Americans in 2003 as the first director of the tribunal, but he was removed last year after he was implicated and then cleared in a finance official's death.

 

Saddam confession

 

Last month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told state television that he had heard from the chief investigator that Saddam had "confessed" and signed documents saying as much.

 

"Saddam's crimes are so great that I doubt this tribunal will be able to deal with them"

Ghorban-Ali Dorri Najafabadi,
Iran's Deputy Attorney-General

"Saddam Hussein is a war criminal and deserves to be executed 20 times a day for his crimes," Talabani said, although he has also said that he personally opposes the death penalty.

 

With less than 24 hours to go before the trial, it still has not been decided whether it will be carried live on TV or with a delay, but either way the world will see Saddam in court.

 

If proceedings are quickly adjourned, sources close to the court say it could be several weeks before they resume, probably after parliamentary elections are held in mid-December.