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Signs Mounting That Saddam Could Soon Face Trial

  • Charles Recknagel

Prague, 6 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Signs are mounting that Saddam Hussein could be put on trial within the next two months. A top aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari says that Saddam could face 12 charges, including alleged crimes committed in Iraqi Kurdistan, where tens of thousands of people died as part of a government crackdown in the late 1980s.

The charges against the former Iraqi president carry punishments from life in jail to the death penalty.

No exact date has yet been set for trying Hussein, who is being held in a U.S.-run detention facility in Baghdad.

But signs are mounting the trial could begin soon.

On 5 June, Laith Kubba, the spokesman of the Iraqi prime minister, said Saddam is likely to be tried within the next two months.

Kubba also said Saddam would face just 12 charges, including ordering the massacres of Iraqi Kurds. He said prosecutors could have brought as many as 500 charges against Saddam, but that would drag out the trial and be "a waste of time."

Ammar al-Shahbander, an Iraqi analyst at the London-based Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), says the charges are likely to focus on the mass killings of Kurds after a rebellion in the late 1980s, of Shi'ites after a rebellion in 1991, and the executions of members of several prominent political families and opposition groups.

"Actually, it's more than 500 offenses committed by Saddam during the years of Ba'ath rule," Shahbander said. "However, the problem is to prove that Saddam actually ordered, or had knowledge of, the majority of these offenses. The 12 offenses they are speaking about are easy to prove and have international precedents (for convictions)."

He says most Ba'ath Party execution orders were issued without signatures. Instead, documents showed only the rank of the issuing officer, making it hard decades later to trace them to individuals. But some exceptions do exist -- and they provide hard evidence against Saddam.

"One of the few documents that Saddam has actually signed is the Revolutionary Command Council's order in the 1980s issuing the death penalty to all members of the (opposition Shi'ite) Da'wah Party retrospectively, which basically means every member of the Da'wah Party is automatically sentenced to death regardless of whether they have committed any offense or not," Shahbander said.

Traces of the mass killings carried out by the former Saddam regime are regularly uncovered in Iraq.

Some five weeks ago, investigators found a site with some 18 mass graves in the south of the country.

Iraqi interim Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin told reporters at the time that the more than 1,500 victims buried there are presumed to be Kurds taken south during a crackdown in Iraqi Kurdistan.

"They are mostly women and children," Amin said. "There are just five men, all others are women and children. They are Kurds from Kurdistan. We believe they are victims of the Al-Anfal campaigns in 1988, [by] Saddam Hussein's regime."

Saddam's regime killed tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq as part of the so-called Al-Anfal campaign of the late 1980s, which took revenge for Kurdish guerrillas having sided against him in the Iran-Iraq war.

The regime also used chemical weapons to kill some 5,000 Kurds in the northeastern city of Halabja in March 1988.

It remains unclear what strategy Saddam's legal team will adopt to defend him against the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But a Jordanian spokesman for Saddam's defense lawyers, Ziad Khasawneh, has suggested they could dispute the court's right to try the former Iraqi leader.
Saddam's regime killed tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq as part of the so-called Al-Anfal campaign of the late 1980s, which took revenge for Kurdish guerrillas having sided against him in the Iran-Iraq war.


"[The trial] is not legal and has no credibility and it was appointed by [then-U.S. Administrator in Iraq Paul] Bremer in violation of international law and therefore not legal," Khasawneh said at a news conference in Tokyo in March.

Denying the court's validity would mirror the defense strategy of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. The Milosevic trial is ongoing at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

If convicted, Saddam could face the death penalty. Baghdad has reinstated capital punishment despite its being waived during the U.S. civil administration of Iraq after U.S. forces toppled Saddam in April 2003.

Trials of Saddam and his key aides are widely demanded by Iraqis who were victims of his regime, particularly in the Shi'ite and Kurdish communities.

Thousands of people demanding Saddam be tried marched in Baghdad to mark the second anniversary of the fall of his regime in April this year.

The marchers -- loyalists of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- said they wanted Saddam tried and U.S.-led foreign forces out of Iraq.

Amid the progress toward the trial, there are reports that Saddam's morale is plummeting.

Judge Raid Juhi told the London-based "Asharq al-Awsat" newspaper in an interview last week that Saddam has lost morale as he has come to understand the extent of the charges brought against him.

Saddam was captured in December 2003 in an underground hiding place on a farm in central Iraq after months on the run. He was reported to be dispirited and disoriented at the time.

However, he appeared alternately downcast and combative when he appeared before a tribunal in July last year to hear initial charges against him.

Sitting before the tribunal, he claimed to still be the president of Iraq and dismissed the proceedings as "theater," saying the court had no jurisdiction over him.
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