Saddam expected to be in court for trial restart

Saddam Hussein was expected to show up when his Baghdad trial reconvenes today, two weeks after he boycotted the last session and vowed not to appear before an “unjust” court.

Saddam Hussein was expected to show up when his Baghdad trial reconvenes today, two weeks after he boycotted the last session and vowed not to appear before an “unjust” court.

It will be Saddam’s first court appearance after Iraqis swarmed to the polls on December 15 to elect the country’s first full-term parliament since his downfall.

“Saddam and his defence team will be there,” said chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mousawi.

Two of Saddam’s lawyers also said the former president was expected to appear in court today.

Five prosecution witnesses are ready to take the stand, al-Mousawi said, but it would be up to the court to decided whether to hear all of them. It was unclear how many more prosecution witnesses, if any, would follow.

“We are very prepared for the resumption of the trial,” al-Mousawi said.

“There is evidence and there are documents with Saddam’s signature on them,” he said. “When it’s time for the prosecution to make its case, there will be a surprise.”

He did not elaborate or provide any further details.

A witness who has already testified before the court – Ahmed Hussein – said he had documents showing Saddam was involved with the killings in Dujail.

“So many names, members of the former regime were mentioned in these documents,” he said.

Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

Saddam refused to attend the last session, held on December 7. One day before, Saddam in an outburst had shouted: “I will not come to an unjust court! Go to hell!”

Ziad al-Najdawi, one of Saddam’s Jordan-based defence lawyers, said the former president would be in court “unless an obstacle emerges”.

“The Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will appear in court as usual, proud and vigorous,” he said.

Al-Najdawi said an American lawyer, Curtis Doebbler, was also expected to attend today’s hearing on behalf of former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Doebbler was already in Baghdad, he said.

During previous sessions, Saddam has been defiant and combative at times, often trying to dominate the courtroom.

He and his half brother- Barazan Ibrahim, who was head of the Iraqi intelligence during the Dujail incident- have used the procedures to protest about their own conditions in detention.

The court has so far heard nine witnesses, who often gave emotional testimonies of random arrests, hunger and beatings while in custody and torture in detention.

Khamis al-Ubeidi, another lawyer on Saddam’s defence team, argued that the “witnesses had no legal value. Their testimonies are based on coaching and unjustified narrative.”

He said the defence team had security concerns that it wanted to tell the court about.

“The court has to provide the lawyers and the defence witnesses with security,” he said. “How can a lawyer work if he cannot move freely because of the security situation?”

He claimed that on their arrival at Baghdad’s airport yesterday, two of Saddam’s lawyers, including Khalil al-Dulaimi, were insulted and beaten up by “airport employees”.

But Ahmed Abdel Wahhab, an official in the Ministry of Transportation, denied the allegation.

Some Iraqi government officials have said they hope the trial of Saddam will help heal the wounds of his regime’s victims and bring Iraqis closer together.

But the trial has also highlighted divisions between Iraq’s various ethnic and sectarian groups, with many Sunni Arabs expressing sympathy with the former president and even nostalgia for his era.

By contrast, many Shiites and Kurds gloated over seeing the once powerful Saddam reduced to a defendant.

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