Saddam Trial Date Set

Saddam Hussein's trial will open October 19.
The trial of Iraq's former strongman Saddam Hussein and seven associates will start on Oct. 19, the government announced Sunday.

The announcement by government spokesman Laith Kubba confirmed unofficial reports that the former strongman and several of his closest aides will face a special tribunal immediately after the national referendum on Iraq's constitution on Oct. 15.

Saddam's co-defendants will include Barazan Ibrahim, intelligence chief at the time and Saddam's half brother; former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan; and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, at the time a Baath party official in Dujail, Kubba said.

"The first session for the trial will begin on Oct. 19," Kubba told reporters. He said seven co-defendants from the former regime would face trial with him.

The eight men will be charged with responsibility for the 1982 massacre of 143 Shiites in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt. If found guilty, Saddam could receive the death penalty.

U.S. occupation authorities scrapped the death penalty soon after the 2003 war, but the new Iraqi government later reinstated it so it would have the option of executing Saddam if he is convicted of crimes committed during his regime.

Saddam is expected to face about a dozen trials for alleged crimes committed by his regime, including the gassing of Kurds in Halabja and the 1991 suppression of a Shiite uprising in the south.

"The charges against Saddam are so many (and) regardless of how many years he is going to live, the charges and trials would not end," Kubba said.

"We urge anybody who has documents related to Saddam trial to present them to the tribunal," Kubba said.

Saddam's Iraqi lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, could not be reached for comment. A judge said it would be routine for al-Dulaimi to ask for an
adjournment of the trial for procedural reasons.

A family lawyer based in Britain complained the date gave too little time to his defense team to prepare the case. Lawyer Abdel Haq Alani also complained that Saddam's defense attorneys are being kept in the dark on charges against him and doubted that the trial would start on time.

In related developments:

  • Insurgents launched a surprise attack on Baghdad's heavily guarded Interior Ministry building early Monday, killing two police guards and wounding several others, officials said.
  • Fighting continued for a third day in Tal Afar, a town about 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, said Dr. Abdel al-Kamal from the local hospital.
  • U.S. and Iraqi officials urged civilians to leave affected areas of the city, a sign that the Americans were preparing a major assault. U.S. forces crushed insurgents there last fall, leaving only about 500 American soldiers behind and handing over control to the Iraqis.
  • But Iraqi authorities lost control of the city, and insurgent ranks swelled. That forced the U.S. command to shift the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from the Baghdad area to Tal Afar to restore order.
  • On Saturday, U.S. and Iraqi forces were firing at insurgents on the western side of the city, Iraqi officials said. Elsewhere, American and Iraqi forces were moving house-to-house, searching for weapons and arresting men capable of firing them, Iraqi authorities said.
  • The U.S. Air Force said that F-16s fighter-bombers provided close air support Saturday to ground forces in the vicinity of the town, hitting "a known insurgent location with successful effects."
  • Hospital officials said they were unsure of casualties because it was too dangerous for ambulances to reach the area. Officials said they hoped to get ambulances into the area Sunday.

    U.S. and Iraqi officials had hoped that a new constitution, finalized Aug. 28 after weeks of intense negotiations, would help bring Iraq's factions together and in time lure Sunni Arabs away from the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

    Instead, the bitter talks sharpened communal tensions, at a time when both Sunnis and Shiites accused extremists from the other community of killing their civilians. Discreet talks are under way to make changes in the language of the draft to ease Sunni Arab hostility to the document.

    However, both Sunni and Shiite community leaders are gearing up for a decisive political battle in the Oct. 15 referendum. Sunni clerics are urging their followers to reject the charter while most of the Shiite clergy supports it.

    Hundreds of Sunni Arabs met in Baghdad on Saturday urge the defeat of the constitution, which threatens "Iraq's division." The conference also condemned "criminal acts" by the Shiite-dominated security services including "raiding houses and detaining innocent people."

    During a speech Saturday, the head of the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said there was a "conspiracy to annihilate the Shiite sect in Iraq."

    Party leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim spoke at a funeral for some of the nearly 1,000 Shiites killed in the stampede which broke out Thursday during a Shiite procession at a Baghdad bridge. The stampede began because of rumors that a suicide bomber was among the crowd.