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Saddam Hussein Arraigned Before Iraqi Court

1 July 2004 -- Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein reportedly declined to sign legal papers today when he appeared in court to hear charges for crimes allegedly committed during his more than 20 years in power.

Witnesses said Hussein refused to sign the papers after seven charges were read against him during his first court appearance, all of them reportedly formal charges connected with the arrest warrant that was served on the 67-year-old former dictator, saying he would not sign without legal counsel present.

Hussein also questioned the court's jurisdiction, calling it "theater" and saying "the real criminal" is U.S. President George W. Bush. He also defended his 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which he called an Iraqi territory.

U.S. authorities transferred Hussein and 11 of his former deputies to the legal custody of the country's new sovereign government yesterday.

The charges against Hussein were not immediately clear, but Iraqi officials have said he will likely face war crimes charges in connection with a 1988 chemical-weapons attack on Kurds, the 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait, and the 1980-88 war with Iran.

The 11 other defendants include Hussein's cousin, Ali Hasan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for allegedly ordering gas attacks on Iraqi Kurds in 1988. The defendants also include top aide Tariq Aziz, who was long Hussein's chief diplomat in showdowns with the United Nations over Iraq's banned weapons of mass destruction programs.

No trial dates for any of the 12 defendants have been set; their arraignments were also reportedly being held today. All of the men were transferred to official Iraqi custody yesterday but are to remain in physical custody of U.S. forces at a secure facility whose location has not been identified by Washington.