Listen to his victims, not Saddam, says White House

The White House yesterday brushed aside accusations from Saddam Hussein that President Bush was "the real criminal", and hailed the former leader's arraignment on war crimes charges as a major step forward for the newly sovereign Iraq.

The White House yesterday brushed aside accusations from Saddam Hussein that President Bush was "the real criminal", and hailed the former leader's arraignment on war crimes charges as a major step forward for the newly sovereign Iraq.

Mr Bush is said to have watched a televised rerun of the former Iraqi leader at the 30-minute arraignment proceeding, in which Saddam rejected charges of war crimes and genocide, and told the judge that "this is all theatre", and "the real criminal is Bush."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan made light of Saddam's words, the first heard from him in several months, in what were the first televised pictures of the former leader since his capture in northern Iraq last December.

Other experts here described Saddam's defiance as "quintessential Saddam," behaving as if he were still in power. Twice, the former Iraqi leader declared: "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq."

"By the end, he was starting to believe his own rhetoric, just like he used to," Kenneth Pollack, a Middle Eastern specialist at the Brookings Institution, said.

For the Bush administration, the aim is to present yesterday's court proceedings as evidence that the Iraqis were retaking control of their own affairs - and as proof that its own policies in Iraq are working.

"I'm sure Saddam Hussein will continue to say all sorts of things," Mr McClellan said. "What's important is Saddam Hussein and his regime's leaders are going to face justice from the Iraqi people before an Iraqi court. This will help the Iraqi people bring closure to the dark past of his brutal dictatorship."

He urged Americans to listen not to the ousted dictator, but to his victims and their relatives. "This is case number one, the people of Iraq vs Saddam Hussein." The arraignmentwas evidence of a new Iraq, Mr McClellan said. "Justice and the rule of law are part of the new Iraq."

Baghdad's decision to re-establish the death penalty ahead of Saddam's trial drew a mixed reaction in Europe, recalling the split across the Continent over the war that toppled him.

Germany and France, two of the most vocal anti-war nations, stated their opposition - without exception - to the death penalty, and called on the Iraqi authorities to ensure Saddam a fair trial. But several former Soviet bloc countries, including Poland, said it was up to the Iraqis to decide how to punish him.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund plans to formally recognise the government in Baghdad in the next few days. This would pave the way to the possible approval of loans to the financially ravaged country.

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