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Iraq To Try Saddam Next Month

Hussein undergoing questioning in August The long-awaited trial date for deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is set for 19 October. Hussein is to stand trial for the massacre of almost 150 residents of a largely Shi'a town north of Baghdad following a failed assassination attempt against him in 1982. If convicted, Hussein could face the death penalty.

Prague, 5 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The trial of Saddam Hussein is to begin in six weeks.

Government spokesman Laith Kubba said yesterday the trial will begin on 19 October -- four days after the planned national referendum on Iraq's draft constitution.

The start of the trial comes 2 1/2 years after U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq and toppled Hussein's regime.

The government has been preparing its case against Hussein for months and officials previously have said they want a fair but rapid trial.

Interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari made that point in a statement in July.

"We are in favor of due process. The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative," al-Ja'fari said. "But all branches, the executive, legislative, and judiciary, should understand that they derive their legitimacy from the Iraqi people. The law should be enforced and we will impress on the judiciary to speed up the investigation and reach a just verdict."

The trial will focus largely on one act of mass killing carried out by Iraqi security forces under Hussein's orders.

That action saw Iraqi security forces sweep into the town of Dujail, some 50 kilometers north of Baghdad, where Hussein was the target of a failed assassination bid on 8 July 1982.

The crackdown included the execution of 143 men and boys from Dujail and the jailing of another 1,500 of the town's residents in a prison in the desert near the Saudi border.

The 68-year-old Hussein, who was captured by U.S. forces in December 2003, could face the death penalty if convicted.

Also on trial will be seven of Hussein's associates.

They include Barzan Ibrahim, who is Hussein's half-brother and a former top official of the secret police, and Taha Yassin, who was vice chairman of the Ba'ath Party's Revolutionary Command Council.

The remaining four defendants -- Abdullah Khadem Ruweid, Mezhar Abdullah Ruweid, Ali Daeh Ali, and Mohammad Azzam al-Ali -- are former ruling Ba'ath party officials responsible for the Dujail area.
The 68-year-old Hussein, who was captured by U.S. forces in December 2003, could face the death penalty if convicted.

Government spokesman Kubba said in June that prosecutors could bring as many as 500 charges against Hussein in any trial, but that multiple charges would only drag out the court proceedings and be "a waste of time."

Documented war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Hussein's regime include the mass killings of Kurds after a rebellion in the late 1980s, of Shi'ites after a rebellion in 1991, the occupation of Kuwait in 1990, and the executions of members of several prominent Iraqi political families and opposition groups.

Hussein's trial is sure to be an emotional affair. One hint of how emotional it could be came when the former president made a court appearance in July.

One of Hussein's legal consultants, Abdul Haq al-Ani, claimed that Hussein was attacked by an unidentified man in the courtroom.

"When the [former] president stood up, one of those people in the courtyard stood up and assaulted him physically," al-Ani said. "Now, the judge did not intervene -- and that is the greatest insult to the integrity of any court, because obviously the judge knew who that person was and he should have held him in contempt of court and put (him) in prison."

The judge and U.S. officials have denied such an incident took place.

When Hussein goes on trial on 19 October, security will have to be tight to protect him against assaults or even assassination attempts.

But security will also have to be tight to prevent attacks on the court premises by insurgent groups.

Some insurgent groups retain loyalty to Hussein as they and other groups -- including Islamic militants and self-proclaimed nationalists -- wage a guerilla war against U.S. and Iraqi forces.