Trial of Hussein to resume today

Authorities press on as violence in Iraq appears to wane

February 28, 2006|By MEGAN K. STACK AND BORZOU DARAGAHI | MEGAN K. STACK AND BORZOU DARAGAHI,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's trial resumes today after a two-week recess, adding another potential irritant after days of sectarian bloodshed in Iraq.

Iraqi authorities decided to press ahead with the trial of the deposed president and seven co-defendants despite the waves of retaliatory killings and mosque vandalism that swept the country after the bombing last week of one of the Shiites' most sacred sites.

Hussein and his associates are charged with crimes related to reprisals against the Shiite Muslim village of Dujayl.

Violence slowed yesterday and tempers seemed cooler. A spot of hope also appeared in the hunt for Jill Carroll, a freelance journalist kidnapped in Baghdad in January. Her captors had threatened to kill her if their demands were not met by Sunday, but the deadline passed without word.

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said yesterday that investigators know who kidnapped Carroll: "We know his name and address, and we are following up on him as well as the Americans. I think she is still alive."

But worry of civil war still darkened the country, and sporadic attacks and killings flared throughout the day.

Violence and recrimination erupted among Shiites and Sunnis, Iraq's two main Muslim sects, in the wake of the Feb. 22 bombing of the shrine in the northern city of Samarra. Shiites, who had largely turned the other cheek to attacks by suspected Sunni Arab insurgents, erupted in rage, killing Sunni clerics and attacking Sunni mosques.

To many Sunni Arabs, Hussein's trial is a humiliating spectacle with sectarian overtones and a reminder of their loss of power after the U.S.-led invasion. The defendants and their attorneys are Sunnis, the prosecutor is Shiite and the judge is a Kurd.

"I can understand that there would be concerns as to whether there would be ramifications," said a trial observer who will be in the courtroom. "But a court can't be seen to be responding to political developments."

Defense attorneys had previously vowed to boycott the proceedings, and defendants were previously represented by a group of court-appointed attorneys. But behind the scenes negotiations have yielded a face-saving compromise, jurists said.

"There is a request for us to attend the session from our clients, so we will attend," said Khamis Ubaidi, one of the attorneys leading the defense team.

Defense attorneys have been unhappy with the fiery Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel Rahman, preferring the more gentle courtroom demeanor of Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who resigned from the court last month.

Prosecutors allege that Hussein and the other defendants bear responsibility for the murder, torture and years-long banishment of hundreds of Shiite villagers in an act of retribution after a failed 1982 assassination attempt against Hussein.

Sunni-Shiite tensions, which festered in relative quiet under his harsh leadership, have burst to the surface since the U.S.-led invasion. Many analysts believe these past days have created new depths of resentment and fear.

Nearly 20 Shiite families fled Dijail-Mashahda, a predominantly Sunni area north of Baghdad. The Sunni head of the municipality and Sunni clerics tried to dissuade the families, who survived on jobs in a nearby brick factory, from leaving. But their appeals had no effect.

"We have children, and we are afraid they might get attacked," said Ali Hussein Saadi, one of the Shiite fathers. "We decided to stay away for a while; we are trying to avoid trouble."

Saadi's family had been living in the area for two decades, he said. He hasn't been threatened, he said, but he doesn't feel safe anymore despite the offers of protection and long-standing bonds with his Sunni neighbors.

"Most of the people know us, we attend their celebrations and they pay visits to us, we even have marriages between us," he said. "By God's will, when things calm down, we will return to our homes."

The bloodshed that has already killed more than 200 people continued. As the sun set, gunfire and explosions crackled in the capital. A homemade bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in Baghdad, killing three worshippers and injuring 11.

The cleric and guard of another Sunni mosque in Baghdad were found dead, according to the television station run by the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party. They had been detained by gunmen wearing the uniforms of the Interior Ministry, it said.

Megan K. Stack and Borzou Daragahi write for the Los Angeles Times.

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