Najib al-Nuaimi, a former Qatari justice minister and member of the defence team, said 30 people, including former government members, would take the stand for the defence.

 

Iraq's former president has been on trial since August 2005 for approving death sentences against 148 Shia villagers from al-Dujail village north of Baghdad, who were tried and sentenced for plotting against Saddam's life in 1982.

 

Al-Nuaimi denied media reports that some of Saddam's officials were willing to testify against him.

 

"Sadun Shakir, the former interior minister; Abd Hmud, Saddam's personal secretary; Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister; and many others have given their approval to testify in favour of the president," he said. 

 

Prosecution witnesses from al-Dujail started to testify in December.

 

They said that the Iraqi security forces arrested them and hundreds others after the July 1982 incident, including women and children, and denied that they were part of an assassination attempt. 

 

They hinted that this was not an assassination attempt and that they did not know why an exchange of fire took place when Saddam visited their village.

 

Al-Dujail residents

Al-Nuaimi said "there will be witnesses from al-Dujail who will counter the stories told by prosecution witnesses".

 

"Our witnesses are from al-Dujail inhabitants. They were eyewitnesses who will tell what happened on that day," al-Nuaimi said.

 

"Witnesses will be presented according to their ranking, and it will be a progressive process from the lowest- to the highest-ranking witnesses."

 

Al-Nuaimi (R) said the defence
team would present 30 witnesses  

Al-Nuaimi said that the court had been co-operative in preparing for the defense testimony but that his team had hopes for more. 

 

"We hope the court will continue its co-operation and let us present all our witnesses and give each one of them the proper chance to speak out.

 

"The court tried to limit the number of witnesses, but we objected and insisted that it is a legally binding issue that the court would listen to all witnesses presented by the defence team," he said.

 

Briefing

Meanwhile, Ramsey Clark, the former US attorney-general and a member of Saddam's defence team, has briefed the Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) and asked for the dismissal of the al-Dujail case for what he calls its failure to prove its charges. Aljazeera.net received a copy of his statement.

 

"The whole prosecution case presented in this first trial before the IST is either a profound misunderstanding of the time, the place, the people, the events and the circumstances addressed, or it is a deliberate misrepresentation of them," Clark said.

 

Clark: There is no evidence to
prove wrongdoing

"The failure to properly prepare its case and the chaotic manner in which witnesses and documents were presented to  the prosecutor contributed to the confusion in the courtroom and misunderstanding by the media.

The statment said that there is no wrongful conduct by Saddam and that he is entitled to "direct verdicts of acquittal and dismissal of the charges".

 

Al-Nuaimi said the US army had appointed Bill Willey, a US lawyer, to help Saddam's defence team.

 

"We did not ask for this lawyer, and we cannot refuse him. We also do not know what he is going to do with us. However, we will see if he can be of any help to us," he said. 

 

The general prosecutor has charged Saddam with signing death warrants for 148 people from al-Dujail. Saddam did not deny signing the warrents but insisted he acted according to his constitutional right as the head of the state who was authorised to approve death sentences issued by Iraqi criminal courts.