BAGHDAD — At least 10 victims of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime are to face the former dictator today and testify to his role in the 1982 killings of more than 140 people, officials close to the tribunal said.
Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie’s office said yesterday that police had foiled a Sunni plot to bomb the courthouse. The statement said the 1920 Revolution Brigades had planned to rocket the building, the Associated Press reported.
In southern Iraq, a knife-wielding crowd tried to attack former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi as he was praying in a Shi’ite holy shrine in Najaf, said a colleague of Mr. Allawi’s on the scene. Mr. Allawi has been campaigning in the run-up to the Dec. 15 national elections. He is unpopular with some Shi’ites because of the role he played as prime minister in approving the operation when the U.S. forces seized control of Najaf from Muqtada al-Sadr.
“We were going there to pray and pay our respects, and some people were waiting for us and they started to surround us and threaten Dr. Allawi with big knives,” said Thaer al Naquib.
Mr. al Naquib, who ended up in the hospital for a cut on his leg, said Mr. Allawi’s security rushed in and carried him to safety. Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, had entered the mosque with six guards, while another 40 waited for him outside.
Mr. al Naquib said the attackers were all dressed in black — typically worn by followers of firebrand Islamic cleric Sheik al-Sadr — and were seated in three groups of 20 in different areas of the mosque.
“When they were praying, they tried to assassinate him. They pushed our guards and tried to get close to him,” he said. “The militia don’t want Dr. Allawi back in power.”
But Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN’s “Late Edition” that it was not clear whether the scuffle was an assassination attempt “or just a disruption by the angry crowd who might not agree with Dr. Allawi’s policy.”
A U.S. official said yesterday that everything was in place for Saddam’s trial to move forward today, after two adjournments and a number of what appeared to be stalling procedures by the defendants’ legal teams.
“The witness arrangements are in place,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Another Western official also close to the case said two of the witnesses were expected to testify on camera, using their real names. Six others would speak in open court, but not reveal their identities, and the final two had agreed to address the judge behind a screen.
“This is their plan, and everyone involved in the process is doing everything to make sure it goes forward,” said the U.S. official.
According to Iraqi law, the chief judge of the trial chamber — not the prosecution — questions the witnesses in order to establish the truth. At the end of the questioning period, the judge can ask both sides in case he left anything out, and they can suggest further lines of questioning.
The Western official said one of the judges in the five-judge panel had recused himself from the proceedings, because one of the co-defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother, a court official said yesterday. A predetermined alternate judge would take his place.
Saddam, his seven co-defendants and their legal teams so far have been involved in what appeared to be a boycott strategy aimed at slowing down the high-profile trial.
On the first day, Saddam berated Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin while the defendants demanded the right to wear traditional head scarves. A week later, on the second day of the trial, a dispute by the defendants broke out regarding their legal representation.
Two defense attorneys have been gunned down in Baghdad since the trial began Oct. 19. The courthouse itself is surrounded in layers of heavily armed security. The U.S. official said Judge Amin had been trying to strike a balance between fair representation for the defendants while not allowing Saddam’s team to game the system.
The People’s Mujahideen of Iran, an anti-Tehran group on the U.S. State Department’s terrorist list but which nevertheless has given out critical and accurate information on Iran’s nuclear plans, has warned that Iraqi groups affiliated with the Iranian government are intent on assassinating secular and Sunni Iraqi election candidates.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.