Saddam defiant as trial resumes

Saddam Hussein has returned to court and immediately accused the Iraqi Interior Ministry of killing and torturing thousands of Iraqis, remarks likely to inflame sectarian tensions.

    Saddam can face the death penalty if found guilty

    The toppled Iraqi leader, who could face death by hanging, remained defiant on Wednesday, one day after the court announced that he would face new charges of genocide against the ethnic Kurdish population in the late 1980s.

    The trial was adjourned later until Thursday.

    Saddam may be in the dock again for another trial as early as next month, potentially leading to a drawn-out, complex legal process in a country where most people want closure on a bloody past and a future free of sectarian bloodshed.

    Iraqi politicians and court officials are already sending mixed signals on whether he would be executed if found guilty in one trial, or be tried on new charges in another first.

    And the latest outbursts suggested chances of accelerating proceedings were slim.

    Defiant Saddam

    Bayan Jabor denies he is waging
    a sectarian war against Sunnis

    Saddam refused to sign documents, saying that only an international court would be fair, and denounced the Interior Ministry as he faced cross examination for the first time on Wednesday.

    "It's the side that kills thousands in the street and tortures them ...," he said, criticising the Shia-run ministry.

    When the judge interrupted him, Saddam said: "If you're scared of the interior minister, he doesn't scare my dog."

    Bayan Jabor, the interior minister, is a hate figure among Sunnis, who accuse him of waging a sectarian war against them and allowing Shia militias to run hit squads with impunity.

    He denies the accusations.

    Lawyer thrown out

    Raouf Abdel Rahman, the chief judge, and Bushra al-Khalil, one of Saddam's lawyers, had several heated exchanges which resulted in her being thrown out of court.

    Guards escorted Bushra al-Khalil
    (top R) out of the court

    Guards escorted her out after she held up what appeared to be a picture of a pile of prisoners at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison, scene of a prisoner abuse scandal in 2004.

    "This is what the Americans did to Iraqis in Abu Ghraib," said the Lebanese lawyer who was told to stop screaming.

    Saddam, whose word was law in Iraq for decades, seemed unfazed by it all, sitting in the dock and telling the judge: "There was no need for you to do that."

    Prosecutor challenged

    Saddam, who still calls himself the president of Iraq, also challenged chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi, a member of the Shia community which Saddam is accused of torturing and putting in mass graves.

    "If you want to put the whale into the net, which I don't think you do, you have to tell the truth," he told Moussawi.

    "Don't be upset with me. I am older than you and I have a higher rank and better history and yet I am not upset with you."

    Moussawi held up the plastic-coated identification cards of Iraqi teenage boys he said were executed under Saddam's orders; names like Mahdi Hussein, 14, and Fouad al-Aswady, 15.

    Saddam was the only defendant in the chamber, which he has dominated with tirades questioning the court's legitimacy and urging Iraqis to rise up against US occupation troops.

    The former president and seven co-accused are charged with killing 148 Shia Muslims after an attempt on his life in the town of Dujail in 1982.

    He has said he was acting within the law against people who tried to kill him.

    Genocide charges

    The special tribunal trying Saddam said on Tuesday that he would face charges of genocide against the Kurds, who accuse him of killing more than 100,000 people and destroying thousands of their villages in the late 1980s in the Anfal campaign.

    The chief judge was sarcastically
    referred to as 'Sir Raouf'

    Saddam sat in the chamber in a dark suit and white shirt as his emotional lawyer argued his case.

    He engaged in verbal sparring with the judge, whose impartiality has been questioned because he is a Kurd from the village of Halabja, where Saddam's forces were accused of killing 5,000 people in a poison gas attack in 1988.

    Saddam sarcastically referred to Abdel Rahman as "Sir Raouf".

    "I am the judge," said Abdel Rahman.

    Saddam responded: "I don't know, I have to make sure."

    Saddam reminded the court of his assassination attempt on Abdel-Karim Kassem, the former Iraqi leader, in Baghdad in 1959.

    He fled the country after being wounded in the leg, one of the heroic tales passed down through generations by his supporters.
    "God is greatest ... President Saddam Hussein, the holy warrior, the hero," he said.

    New evidence

    Mussawi, the chief prosecutor, said the prosecution has new documents linking the defendants to the Dujail case.

    "'I was born in Iraq and I want to die there'"

    Salah al-Armuti,
    Jordanian lawyer quoting Saddam Hussein

    "They involve communications and messages exchanged between high officials" of the previous government over the Dujail affair, Mussawi said.

    The issue of documents will be central to tying the defendants to the crimes they are charged with, but several of the defendants cast doubt on the authenticity of the documents presented, many of which bear their signatures.

    Seventeen sessions of the trial have been boycotted by defendants and their lawyers, lawyers have been assassinated and judges have resigned.

    Moving forward

    After the last session, some experts said the trial seems to be moving forward.

    But, in a report to the UN Human Rights Commission, Leandro Despouy, who monitors the independence of judges and lawyers, pointed to "notorious failings" in the trial and suggested the accused should instead answer to "an international tribunal which could count on the cooperation of the United Nations".

    Saddam has rejected suggestions from his defence team to move the trial out of Iraq.

    "Saddam told us on this issue, 'I was born in Iraq and I want to die there'," said Salah al-Armuti, Saddam's Jordanian lawyer.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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