BAGHDAD -- In fewer than 10 days, Saddam Hussein will stand in the especially built courtroom where he will face the families of those he killed.
A source close to the Iraqi Special Tribunal said yesterday that the much-feared dictator and seven of his underlings will be brought before a five-judge panel Oct. 19 to answer to charges of crimes against humanity.
For some who suffered under Saddam, a formal trial along international guidelines is too good for the man who is accused of ordering the killing, torturing and rape of thousands.
"Why lawyers [and a] trial?" asked Ahmed, a security guard who asked that his full name not be used. "Put Saddam in the streets of Baghdad, all of them in the street, and the people will just shoot him, finished." He made a gun with his hand and pretended to shoot at the ground.
If found guilty, Saddam could face the death penalty, either by hanging or by firing squad.
Located deep inside the heavily fortified green zone area of Baghdad, the courtroom will open under extremely heavy security, with the defendants seated in one section and their lawyers in another.
The eight defendants are to stand trial specifically for the 1982 massacre of 143 Shi'ites from the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. They were killed in the wake of a failed assassination attempt against Saddam. Further trials on other charges could follow.
On the opening day, "there will be a basic identifying of the defendants and crimes of which they are accused," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. After that, the proceedings could move more slowly.
"This is a very complicated case, and there is a lot to do." He said it was unlikely that the process would be drawn out by technicalities.
Those standing in the dock will include Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother and intelligence chief; Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president; and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, formerly a Ba'ath party official in Dujail.
Security for the judges and witnesses -- some of whom are expected to testify anonymously -- is a crucial issue. Pro-Saddam insurgents regularly kill Iraqis who oppose their former leader. Officials refuse to say where the courtroom is, or how witnesses will be protected.
Members of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, appointed in 2004 to conduct the trial, are in last-minute discussions on how much of the trial will be covered live and whether identities will be revealed. Places have been set aside for reporters and invited observers, who could include representatives of international organizations.
"As the trial proceeds, there will be witnesses and there may be family there," the source said.
The judges chosen to hear the case are living under layers of armed protection in the green zone. If one of the five is unable to continue with the trial, another judge will be brought in from one of two other five-member trial panels.
The trial opens just four days after a national referendum on Iraq's new constitution and after months of sectarian violence and bombings, which have left hundreds dead and maimed across the country. Iraqi and U.S. forces have strengthened security across the nation in anticipation of the two events.
Iraq's legal system is substantially different from the adversarial American system, in which lawyers battle out the case. In the Iraqi system, the presiding judge will probably take a lead role in moving the trial forward.
Saddam's lawyers have called for a delay of the trial, arguing they have not had enough time to prepare. Others have argued that the tribunal is extralegal and therefore illegitimate because it was created during the U.S. occupation.
However, the democratically elected government of Iraq has looked at the Iraqi Special Tribunal and the laws it operates under and has endorsed it.