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Saddam Hussein makes first key admission in trial

The deposed Iraqi dictator accepted that he ordered the destruction of orchards as a reprisal for an assassination bid.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2006 11:52 IST

The deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on Wednesday accepted that he ordered the destruction of orchards as a reprisal for an assassination bid in a Shiite town, his first such admission in the turbulent trial.

As the prosecution attempted to pile up documentary evidence against Saddam and his seven co-accused, it was claimed he pardoned two Shiites who were to have been executed for the assassination attempt in the town of Dujail.

Prosecutors led by Jaafar al-Mussawi the day earlier submitted to the court what they said was a signed execution order showing Saddam's guilt in the killing of 148 Shiite inhabitants of Dujail as a reprisal.

In the last few minutes of the day's proceedings in the trial, which has now been adjourned till March 12, Saddam said he ordered the destruction of orchards.

"I signed the order" for destroying the orchards. "I am Saddam Hussein. At the time I was in charge. It is not my habit to pass the buck on to others."

Explaining the reason for ordering the destruction Saddam said: "It's the right of the Iraqi state to nationalise any land for the public interest by paying a symbolic compensation. I changed the law to substantial compensation."

He also gave a vivid description of escaping an assassination bid in Dujail.

"I came under machine gun fire from 50 metres away", he said, speaking of the ambush on his motorcade.

"Bullets passed in front of my eyes... It's Allah who wanted to save me," he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, prosecutors produced a letter purportedly showing the former Iraqi dictator spared the lives of two of the 148 Shiites accused over the assassination bid.

The letter said that the intelligence service found that the two -- Ali Jaafar, 50, and Jassem Mohammed, 63 -- had been released by mistake and were still alive.

Saddam had then been asked how to proceed.

Saddam wrote back saying: "If luck has saved them, who am I to be tough on them."

The two were not executed. Saddam is believed to have pardoned them considering their old age.

He also said it was he who ordered the suspects involved in the assassination bid to be tried in the revolutionary court headed by co-accused Awad Ahmad Al-Bander.

"I asked the suspects responsible for the assassination bid to be transferred to the court in Baghdad."

"You put Bander as a defendant just because he was heading the court at that time... It was I who asked the suspects to be judged as you are doing here today."

"I am responsible, why are you putting others in jail," Saddam asked.

The prosecution meanwhile suffered a setback when one of their witness, ex-interior minister Saadun Shaker refused to testify against Saddam.

He will now face charges, the prosecutor said.

In the past the trial has frequently run into trouble, with stormy sessions featuring long outbursts or walkouts by the defendants and their counsel as well as the resignation of the previous chief judge and the killing of two defence lawyers.

The trial is currently in the second phase of depositions by witnesses testifying over events during the Dujail massacre. The defendants, if found guilty, face the death penalty by hanging.

Saddam, who for most part of Wednesday's session sat quietly, tried to interrupt the prosecutor although the stern chief judge Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman held firm.

"Just give me a little time, after all I was your president for 35 years," pleaded a rather subdued-looking Saddam.

Mussawi also accused three other defendants -- Abdullah Khadem Ruweid, Mezhar Abdullah Ruweid and Ali Daeh Ali -- of naming some Dujail residents who were later executed.

First Published: Mar 01, 2006 21:14 IST