Saddam attends resumed trial after two-week break

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The Independent Online

The trial of Saddam Hussein resumed this morning after a two-week break, and the former leader - who had refused to attend the last session - was in court.

Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

Saddam refused to attend the last session, held on December 7. One day before,

Saddam in an outburst had shouted: "I will not come to an unjust court! Go to hell!"

Today was Saddam's first court appearance following last week's election, when Iraqis swarmed to the polls to vote for the country's first full-term parliament since his downfall.

During previous sessions, Saddam has been defiant and combative at times, often trying to dominate the courtroom.

He and his half brother- Barazan Ibrahim, who was head of the Iraqi intelligence during the Dujail incident- have used the procedures to protest their own conditions in detention.

The chief prosecutor in the case, Jaafar al-Mousawi said five prosecution witnesses were ready to take the stand today. It would be up to the court to decided whether to hear all of them, he said. It was unclear how many more prosecution witnesses, if any, would follow.

"We are very prepared for the resumption of the trial," al-Mousawi said.

"There is evidence and there are documents with Saddam's signature on them," he said. "When it's time for the prosecution to make its case, there will be a surprise."

He did not elaborate or provide any further details.

The court has so far heard nine witnesses, who often gave emotional testimonies of random arrests, hunger and beatings while in custody and torture in detention.

Khamis al-Ubeidi, a lawyer on Saddam's defence team, argued that the "witnesses have no legal value. Their testimonies are based on coaching and unjustified narrative."

He said the defence team had security concerns that it wanted to tell the court about.

"The court has to provide the lawyers and the defence witnesses with security," he said. "How can a lawyer work if he cannot move freely because of the security situation?"

Some Iraqi government officials have said they hope the trial of Saddam will help heal the wounds of his regime's victims and bring Iraqis closer together.

But the trial has also highlighted divisions between Iraq's various ethnic and sectarian groups, with many Sunni Arabs expressing sympathy with the former president and even nostalgia for his era.

By contrast, many Shiites and Kurds gloated over seeing the once powerful Saddam reduced to a defendant.