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Saddam's Trial Date Decided

Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will go on trial on a charge of mass killing on October 19, a spokesperson for the Iraqi government confirmed yesterday, raising the possibility that he could soon be hanged.


"There is a date set for October 19," Laith Kubba told a news conference, adding that several of Saddam's associates, including one of his half-brothers, would face trial with him.


"They will be tried for the execution of 143 citizens."


Kubba was referring to reprisals for an assassination attempt on Saddam in the Shi'ite Muslim village of Dujail in 1982, after which over 140 men from the village were killed.


Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has reintroduced the death penalty after it was suspended following the US invasion in March 2003. On Thursday, three convicted criminals were hanged, the first since the suspension was lifted.


Saddam faces execution if found guilty.


Stressing that he was voicing a personal opinion, Kubba said that if Saddam were convicted for the Dujail killings, trials for other crimes might be shelved and the sentence carried out quickly.


He gave no estimate of the length of the trial.


The trial will follow swiftly after a referendum on a new constitution for the post-Saddam era, due by October 15. The draft text is already highly divisive between Iraq's three main communities, Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs and Kurds.


Saddam is a Sunni, the once politically dominant group which makes up around 20 percent of Iraq's population.


Saddam's trial is sure to be contentious.


"Of course the whole trial is controlled by America," said one man interviewed in the streets of Baghdad, Hansen Shaheed.


"If America wants him released, he will be released, and if it wants him to stay, he will stay."


On Saturday, Saddam's family selected a new international legal counsel to defend him, saying they would not reveal the counsel's identity for the time being.


Also on Saturday, his chief attorney Khalil Dulaimi dismissed the date of October 19 as "invalid," saying he needed years to study the 36 tons of files of evidence against Saddam.


Tens of thousands of Iraqis are thought to have been killed, tortured or executed, under Saddam's rule, including in a gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988 which killed around 7,000. Saddam said the attack was aimed at Iranian troops.


But by focusing on the relatively limited 1982 Dujail case, prosecutors have said they believe they can show Saddam's personal responsibility more easily than in the bigger crimes.


Not all Iraqis were interested in Saddam's fate.


"Whether Saddam Hussein is tried or not will not affect us," Jassim Aziz said. "What we want most is security."


Saddam's codefendants include Barzan al-Tikriti, his half-brother and former head of Iraq's intelligence service; Taha Yassin Ramadan, former vice-president; and Awad Hamad al-Bander, former chief judge of Saddam's Revolutionary Court.


(China Daily September 5, 2005)

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