Saddam confessed to killings, says Iraqi president

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The Independent Online

Yesterday evening, Talabani told Iraqi television that an investigating judge "was able to extract confessions from Saddam's mouth" about numerous executions he had allegedly personally ordered during his 24 years in power.

But a legal consultant retained by Saddam's family expressed scepticism over the claim, saying the former strongman had not mentioned any confession when he met his lawyer on Monday.

Saddam's trial is scheduled to open on October 19. He and seven other senior Baath Party officials have been charges for their alleged role in the 1982 massacre of Shiites in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, following an assassination attempt there against him. The trial is likely to be the first of a series of legal proceedings against Saddam on numerous other charges.

In the late-night TV interview, Talabani said Saddam was responsible form many more atrocities than just the killings in Dujail. These included the so-called Anfal campaign in 1987-88, which cost the lives of more than 180,000 Kurds and resulted in the ethnic cleansing of numerous Kurdish communities in the north of Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein is a war criminal and he deserves to be executed 20 times a day for his crimes against humanity," said Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party. He added that Saddam had tried to assassinate him at least 20 times.

But Abdel Haq Alani, Saddam's family's legal consultant, said Talabani's allegations sounded like the president was trying to prejudice the trial.

"Let's not have a trial on TV. Let the court of law, not the media, make its ruling on this," Alani said. He condemned Talabani's remarks and said the alleged confession "comes to me as a surprise, a big surprise".

"I have heard nothing whatsoever about this alleged media speculation," Alani said in Amman, Jordan. "This is a matter for the judiciary to decide on, not for politicians and Jalal should know better than that."

Talabani did not elaborate on the purported confessions. It was uncertain, for example, whether Saddam believed he was admitting to a crime or simply acknowledging having issued orders which he believed were legal - something only a trial could determine.

Operation Anfal took place during Iraq's war with Iran, which the Iraqi government believed maintained ties to the Iraqi Kurds.

The 1991 suppression of Iraqi Shi'ites, another atrocity for which Saddam may face charges, occurred after the majority rose up after US-led forces drove the Iraqi army from Kuwait. Shiite leaders had hoped - wrongly - that the Americans would intervene on their behalf.

Saddam's legal team said it planned to challenge the starting date as allowing insufficient time for a proper defence. Defence lawyers also said they would challenge the trial's legitimacy.

Saddam has been in US custody at an undisclosed site in Baghdad since his capture in December 2003, eight months after his regime was overthrown by US forces.

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