Iraq announces date for first Hussein trial

Ex-president scheduled to face charges Oct. 19 for 1982 Shiite killings

September 05, 2005|By Alex Rodriguez | Alex Rodriguez,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The long-awaited trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been slated for Oct. 19, more than a year and a half after his capture by U.S. troops in a mud-walled bunker near his hometown of Tikrit.

The former dictator faces a long list of charges for alleged crimes against humanity stemming from his 25-year rule, but his first trial will focus on a 1982 crackdown on Shiites in the village of Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, that led to the execution of 158 people, 15 of them without trials.

In announcing the trial date yesterday, government spokesman Laith Kubba said Hussein will be tried with seven co-defendants, including his intelligence chief, his former vice president and a former Baath Party official of Dujail.

"This trial will give victims a real opportunity to get justice from these criminals," Kubba said. "With this trial, we want Iraq to turn a new leaf."

If Iraqi officials stick to the Oct. 19 date, one of the more closely watched trials in history will begin four days after one of Iraq's more crucial votes: the Oct. 15 referendum of the country's draft constitution.

Hussein could face the death sentence if convicted.

The undertaking to build a case against Hussein began well before his capture in December 2003, when U.S. troops found him crouching in a hole dug under a hut in the remote Tigris River village of Ad Dawr.

Since then, Iraqi officials have assembled more than 500 cases that they could potentially lodge against Hussein. However, they winnowed the list down to 12 cases for trial. Among them: the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and, in 1988, the use of chemical weapons on Kurds in Halabja that killed 5,000 people.

The Dujail charge centers on Hussein's response to an assassination attempt on him as his convoy moved through the largely Shiite village.

Villagers with links to the then-outlawed Dawa Party, a Shiite Islamist organization, were responsible for the attack. Afterward, thousands of villagers were detained. Hussein's security forces executed 15, and 143 were put to death after "show trials" on charges of membership in the Dawa Party.

According to Human Rights Watch, Hussein killed an estimated 290,000 Iraqis during his last 20 years in power.

Hussein recently fired his entire defense team, a group of 1,500 Arab and Western lawyers, and will be represented solely by Iraqi attorney Khalil al-Dulaimi. Arab media reported yesterday that al-Dulaimi will ask that the trial be delayed to give him more time to prepare his case.

It remains to be seen whether Iraqi judges presiding over his case would order his execution before the other charges have been adjudicated.

Kubba suggested that the court might not want to wait.

"There are so many charges against Saddam," Kubba said, "I don't think there will be an end to the charges. If the court convicts him, I think they will sentence him to death, and the decision will be approved."

Elsewhere, U.S. troops killed seven insurgents yesterday in Tal Afar, including six who fired at Americans from a mosque, the U.S. command said.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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