Prague, 7 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Saddam Hussein confessed to killings and other crimes committed during his regime, including the massacre of thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s.
Talabani said Saddam had told an investigating judge that he personally ordered such crimes.
"I met the investigator who questioned Saddam," Talabani said. "I encouraged him to continue with the investigation, and he gave me good news. He said he had extracted important confessions from Saddam Hussein and he [Hussein] had signed them."
Talabani, himself a Kurd, said Saddam specifically confessed to ordering the al-Anfal campaign, in which thousands of Kurds were killed during the late 1980s.
"He confessed to al-Anfal and the executions," Talabani said. "Saddam said: 'The orders were released by me.' Saddam should receive the death sentence 20 times. There are 100 reasons to sentence Saddam to death.”
While Talabani dismissed suggestions that the government is pressuring judges to speed up Saddam’s trial, some analysts disagree.
"I met the investigator who questioned Saddam. He said he had extracted important confessions from Saddam Hussein and he [Hussein] had signed them." -- President Talabani
David Hartwell follows the Middle East for the London-based organization Jane's Information Group. He tells RFE/RL that Saddam's trial is taking place in a politicized atmosphere. Hartwell says Talabani's announcement might be an attempt to put pressure on Iraq’s Sunni minority.
“[Talabani] may be trying to pressurize the Sunnis in some sense during the run-up for a constitutional vote," Hartwell said.
Most Sunni leaders oppose Iraq’s draft constitution,
on which a national referendum is due to be held on 15 October, just days after Saddam, a Sunni, goes on trial. Sunnis disagree with the constitution’s proposed federalism,
which would give more authority to the majority Shi'a, as well as northern Kurds. (See also "The Growing Sunni-Shi'a Divide."
The first charge Hussien will be tried on regards his purported role in the 1982 massacre of Shi'a in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt there against him. Several of the ex-president's closest aides will also face trial with him.
Hiwa Osman, Talabani's media adviser, told RFE/RL that Talabani believes that Hussein deserves the death penalty. However, he says Talabani will not sign any such orders himself.
"Talabani repeatedly says he is not going to sign any death-penalty orders, but at the same time he is not going to block them," Osman said. "He has authorized his deputy or his vice president, Dr. Adel Abdel Mehdi, to make the decision on his behalf."
Analyst Hartwell says Talabani's announcement gives the impression that a verdict has already been reached regarding Hussein. He says such pretrial statements are inappropriate from a legal point of view.
"Talabani is not really helping himself or the judicial process by sort of making statements saying that, you know, Saddam has already confessed and he deserves the death penalty," Hartwell said.
Hussein's lawyers greeted Talabani's comments with skepticism and have also warned that the allegations risk prejudicing the trial.
Hussein's legal team is trying to delay next month's proceedings by arguing that it has not been given sufficient time to prepare.
The Associated Press on 7 September quoted Abdel Haq Alani, a legal consultant to Hussein's family, as saying that Hussein did not mention any confession when he met on 6 September with his Iraqi attorney.
Hussein has been in custody since his capture by U.S. troops in December 2003.
He appeared last year before an Iraqi tribunal to hear a list of preliminary charges against him, including the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the 1986-88 al-Anfal campaign, the 1988 chemical attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja during that campaign, and the suppression of the 1991 revolts by Iraq's Kurdish and Shi'ite populations.For weekly news and analysis on Iraq, subscribe to "RFE/RL Iraq Report."