Monday, November 28, 2005

BAGHDAD — Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. Attorney General and antiwar activist, arrived here yesterday and was expected to try to show up at the reopening of Saddam Hussein’s trial in Baghdad today, but a U.S. government official warned that he was not officially registered with the court.

“As of today, [chief defense lawyer] Khalil Dulaimi has never filed with the Iraqi tribunal the proper paperwork to have an international lawyer work with the defense team,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

“He has been invited to do so and told how to do so on a number of occasions. If a proper motion is filed for a qualified international attorney as an adviser to the defense team, it is expected that the court will accept that request,” said the U.S. official, who is close to the tribunal.

Mr. Clark, who has defended former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, has advised the defense team and questioned the impartiality of the court, set up while Iraq was under U.S. control.

“Our plan is to go to court in Baghdad on Monday morning representing the defense counsel as defense support. A fair trial in this case is absolutely imperative for historical truth to justice obviously,” Mr. Clark told Reuters news agency in Amman.

Some Shi’ites are worried that Mr. Clark’s presence — especially if contested — will turn the trial into a circus, with Saddam taking over the proceedings much as he did when the trial began Oct. 19.

Survivors of Saddam’s brutal rule called loudly for the death penalty for the former dictator as he prepared to take the stand for the second time today for the 1992 deaths of 140 Shi’ites.

But others said it was unlikely that Saddam would be sentenced to die anytime soon, because it would only intensify the Sunni insurgency raging through central Iraq and ignite another round of brutal sectarian killings.

The first witnesses are to testify today, most likely behind a screen to protect their identities, for fear of retaliation by Saddam’s supporters. Two of Saddam’s lawyers have been killed in broad daylight since the trial opened.

One key witness in the case, former intelligence officer Wadah Ismael al-Sheik, died of cancer Oct. 27, just days after giving a videotaped deposition. His evidence is expected to be accepted by the court.

The U.S. government official said that prior to the attacks on the defense lawyers, all parties had been offered — and were still offered — “various kinds of protective measures.”

“We joined the Iraqi government in urging court personnel to accept those protective measures offered so that the proceedings can continue in accordance with the rule of law,” the official said, without elaborating on the type of measures.

Iraqis expected U.S. and Iraqi troops and police to be out in force on the streets of the capital to tamp down insurgent reactions to the trial. Tensions already are increasing in the city in the countdown to the Dec. 15 elections for a new four-year government.

“I was very happy when I saw Saddam on trial,” said one 50-year-old Kurdish grandmother who survived the killings of thousands of Kurds by Saddam’s regime. “I want Saddam to be erased, so there is no more Saddam anymore.”

Sitting on a plain plastic chair in the sun outside her village home outside Irbil, the ancient capital of Kurdistan, Khadija Mohammed recalled how thousands of Kurds were fatally gassed and thousands more were rounded up and executed.

“He has done a lot of dreadful things. He is the very symbol of bad,” she said, brushing wisps of her braided hair out of her face. “We want him to be executed in public.”

Saddam’s lawyers have said they will probably ask the five-judge panel for the trial to be put off for three months so they can better prepare their case. Western officials expect the trial to continue for three or four days this week before being adjourned until after the Dec. 15 vote.

One Sunni engineer who was arrested and tortured under Saddam’s rule said he did not expect the trial to conclude with the expected call for the death penalty until the violent unrest in Baghdad and central Iraq was brought under control.

“If he were to get the death penalty now, the Ba’ath party insurgents would not let anyone walk in the streets, they would kill everyone,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A senior police commander said eight Sunni Arabs were arrested yesterday in the northern city of Kirkuk, accused of plotting to kill the investigating judge who put together the case against Saddam, the Associated Press reported.

The bombings and assassinations that have left hundreds of Iraqis dead in the past week are expected to escalate in the coming weeks. The Sunni-Shi’ite violence that has led to abuses and execution-style killings on both sides of the religious divide is also expected to increase.

The Sunni engineer said human rights abuses such as those discovered in the Shi’ite controlled secret detention center run by the Ministry of Interior are similar to what was happening under Saddam.

“Saddam arrested people and kept them in chicken coops,” he said. “These guys put people in stables and beat them with wires and rubber batons — the only thing that is different is the type of animal.”

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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