Saddam: 'If I'm to be executed, please make it by firing squad'

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An angry Saddam Hussein making his final appearance before the court trying him in Baghdad said that he would prefer to die by firing squad rather than hang "like a common criminal".

The prosecution has asked for the death penalty for the former Iraqi leader and two of the other seven defendants for their role in the killing of 148 Shias in retaliation for the assassination attempt against Saddam in 1982.

"I was brought against my will directly from the hospital," Saddam told the chief judge, Raouf Abdel-Rahman. Saddam has been on hunger strike for 17 days protesting about the murder of three of his lawyers and has been fed through a tube. "The Americans insisted that I come against my will," he added.

Dressed in a white shirt and dark jacket, Saddam, still looking robust despite his 69 years and his hunger strike, listened to his court-appointed lawyer read a final summary arguing that prosecution witnesses and documents failed to link the deposed dictator to any of the atrocities in Dujail. But the lawyer was scathingly criticised by Saddam who denounced him as his "enemy" for reading out what had been drafted by foreigners whom he says have manipulated the trial since it started on 19 October last year.

In a defiant statement, often interrupted by the judge, Saddam said: "I ask you, being an Iraqi person, that if you reach a verdict of death, execution, remember that I am a military man and should be killed by firing squad and not by hanging as a common criminal." This is not entirely correct since Saddam was a civilian leader of the Baath party who later appointed himself as supreme military commander.

The judge challenged Saddam's assertion that he had been brought to court against his will. "You were not brought here against your will. Here's the medical report ... and it indicates that you are in good shape," he said. "I didn't say I was ill," Saddam retorted. "I was on a hunger strike." He repeatedly denounced the court, the Iraqi High Tribunal, as an illegal instrument of the occupation. "We not only resist this occupation," he said. "We do not acknowledge it. We do not acknowledge all the decisions it has made, including appointing the so-called government and this court you represent."

After arguing with the judge, Saddam pointed his finger defiantly at him and added: "Not even 1,000 people like you can terrify me." Referring to the Americans, he added: "The invaders only understand the language of the gun. I am in prison but the knights outside will liberate the country."

On one point, Judge Abdel-Rahman and the defendant had a curious coming together of views. When accused of inciting violence against Iraqis Saddam responded: "I am inciting the killing of Americans and invaders, not the killing of Iraqis. I am Saddam Hussein. I call on Iraqis to... work on evicting the invaders."

The judge asked if that were true why insurgents were killing more Iraqi civilians than American soldiers. "Why are they attacking Iraqis in coffee shops and markets? Why don't they go detonate themselves among Americans?" the judge asked. Saddam retorted: "This case is not worth the urine of an Iraqi child." He said he had told his supporters "that if you see an American vehicle you should strike it" - but the judge switched off his microphones so that the rest of the sentence could not be heard.

"It's clear that we stand before prepared decisions and the defence is only needed to add legitimacy to those decisions," said Saddam's lawyers in a statement.

A verdict is expected by mid-August. Saddam is to stand trial again on 21 August for the repression of the Kurds in the 1980s in which 182,000 were killed.