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Tyrant or hero, Saddam steals the show in trial

December 6, 2005

Tyrant or hero, Saddam steals the show in trial

By Omar al-Ibadi

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Whether Iraqis hate or love Saddam Hussein they agree the toppled dictator has taken control of his high-profile trial with the trademark defiance that kept him in power for decades. 

Saddam and half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti, who was also his former intelligence chief, have gone on the offensive this week, chanting Baath party slogans, attacking the court as a U.S. creation and slamming witness testimony as if they were lawyers. 

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein (front) and his former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti berate the court during their trial in Baghdad December 5, 2005. (REUTERS/David Furst/Pool)
"Saddam was acting as if he was in power and still a president and the judge was too weak to stop him," said Raed Abdul Kareem, 38, a printing house worker in Baghdad. 

"Saddam reminded me of the days when he used to address Iraqis in long speeches," he said. 

The former president and seven other defendants face charges of crimes against humanity over the deaths of 148 people after an attempt on Saddam's life in the village of Dujail in 1982. 

Standing up and waving his finger back and forth, Saddam has repeatedly said that he is still the president of Iraq, reminding Iraqis of decades of iron-fisted rule. 

STIRRING MEMORIES OF WARS 

Recalling the bitter war Iraqis fought with Iran in the 1980s and his long confrontation with the United States after invading Kuwait in 1990, Saddam was in his element, speaking of grand struggles and the glory of the Arab nation. 

"You (Iraqis) were killed and you sacrificed against Iran for eight years and then we fought the evil of the West," he told the judge in an outburst on Tuesday, the fourth court session. 

Saddam's speeches in the heavily fortified court building inside Baghdad's Green Zone brought back painful memories for some Iraqis but appealed to others. 

"The trial is not good. Saddam, as a president, should be given a special privilege and a bigger opportunity to defend himself," said Laith Ali, a 40-year-old engineer from the town of Hilla, 100 km south of the capital. 

Others said he was innocent. 

"The investigation of Saddam is null and void. The Dujail case is related to the intelligence services and has nothing to do with him," said Mushtaq Talib, 38, a teacher. 

Imad Kathim, a mechanical engineer from Iraq's second city Basra in the south, home to most of Iraq's Shi'ites long- oppressed under Saddam, said the former leader had taken control with his trademark defiance. 

"This is called the trial of the century but I think it is the comedy of the century and Saddam is its hero," he said. 

Barzan reminded the court why he was Saddam's feared head of intelligence, applying pressure on a witness who was too frightened to be identified. 

"If he is scared, will this curtain protect him? He is known and I know him. It's not difficult to find out who he is," said Barzan, who spat towards the court's upper gallery holding Iraqi officials and others on Monday. 

Such comments angered Iraqis who say Saddam does not deserve a trial. 

"I think the court was lenient with the defendant Saddam's provocations and his attempts to mislead judicial procedures. I think the court should execute these criminals and respect the victims' rights," said Jassim Sahib, 55, a cleric in the southern city of Kerbala. 

(Additional reporting by Abdel-Razzak Hameed in Basra, Sami al-Jumaili in Kerbala, Aref Mohammed in Kirkuk, Khaled Farhan in Najaf, and Heba Moussa in Baghdad) 

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