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Saddam trial resumes as lawyers walk out

The resumption of the trial came against a background of deadly civil unrest in Iraq, which included the bombing of the tomb of Saddam's father in Tikrit.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2006 18:59 IST
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The trial of Saddam Hussein and seven former cohorts on charges of crimes against humanity reopened Tuesday after a two-week break, with all defendants present.

The former Iraqi dictator's lawyers, however, stormed out in fury.

The resumption of the trial came against a background of deadly civil unrest in Iraq, which included the bombing of the tomb of Saddam's father in his hometown of Tikrit.

The trial rapidly became embroiled in the wrangling that has marked previous sessions, with the chief judge rejecting requests by the defence team for the trial to be postponed and for the judge and chief prosecutor to be dismissed.

Saddam's lead lawyers then walked out of the courtroom and were replaced by court-appointed lawyers. The opening of the trial had earlier been delayed by several hours earlier for unexplained reasons.

After a stormy 12th hearing on February 14, when a defiant Saddam announced he was on hunger strike amid chaotic scenes, the chief judge Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman had adjourned the trial to February 28.

But Saddam's lead lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said on Monday that the deposed president had ended his fast to protest court proceedings and indicated the defence team could be ready to start attending the trial again.

The bombing of Saddam's father's tomb occurred at 6:00 am in the Al-Arbaain graveyard in the centre of the northern town of Tikrit where Hussein al-Majid's tomb was built by Saddam. The explosion blasted the door and two windows of the structure.

The hunger strike was the latest in a series of courtroom antics by Saddam and his ex-cohorts since their trial opened last October.

In a statement released by his lawyer late Monday, Saddam called on Iraqis to unite after sectarian unrest that has claimed hundreds of lives and praised the appeasing role played by top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

He called "for unity at all levels to stop those who want to trigger sedition and division", Dulaimi said in a statement.

The Shiite religious leader Sistani appealed for calm and asked Shiites not to attack Sunnis following last Wednesday's bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

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.

Saddam and the other defendants face the death penalty if found guilty of the killing of over 140 people from the town of Dujail in 1982 in retaliation for an assassination bid against him.

The trial is currently in the second phase of depositions by witnesses testifying over events during the Dujail massacre.

Saddam's lawyers have continued to demand the sacking of chief judge Abdel Rahman, charging he was biased and prejudiced.

Ramsey Clark, the former US attorney general who is helping to defend Saddam, has submitted a motion recently claiming the judge "is not impartial and has a manifested bias against the defendant".

He has "repeatedly violated standards of fair trial, human rights and basic due process in the courtroom", according to Clark.

The defence claims Abdel Rahman is biased because he is a native of the Kurdish village of Halabja, the target of a 1988 chemical attack in which some 5,000 people, including women and children, were killed.

Since the stern Abdel Rahman took over as the chief judge of the trial, Saddam has often been locked in heated verbal exchanges with him, often plunging the sessions into chaos.

During the February 14 session as the judge pounded his gavel to restore order, Saddam told him to "take that hammer and knock yourself on the head."

At a January 27 hearing, Abdel Rahman ejected Saddam's half-brother and co-defendant Barzan al-Tikriti for disruptive behavior, an action that led to a walkout by the entire defense team.

The defendants then boycotted the next session, and although they later returned to the court -- amid claims they were forced to do so -- their defence counsel stayed away.