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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 20:35 GMT 21:35 UK
Arab media urge fair Saddam trial
By Sebastian Usher
BBC world media correspondent

Arab media outlets have been united in their call for the trial of Saddam Hussein and his aides to be carried out according to the strictest legal procedures.

Footage of Saddam Hussein in court
Saddam: Star of the season, said a Saudi newspaper

Several newspaper editorials have warned against any indication that the trial is motivated by vengeance.

As with other satellite channels around the world, the two biggest and most-watched Arab news stations - al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya - have been devoting most of their coverage to Saddam Hussein's court appearance.

In an attempt to gauge the mood of the Iraqis themselves, al-Jazeera interviewed people on the streets of Baghdad and Najaf.

Clash of opinions

All the opinions the station chose to broadcast from the Iraqi capital were fiercely in support of Saddam Hussein - creating a one-sided impression of how people there view his trial:

Iraqis watch Saddam Hussein's court appearance on television
Iraqis are divided whether Saddam is a hero or villain

"In the current circumstances where we have occupiers, President Saddam Hussein should not be tried," said one Iraqi.

"First of all, [US President] Bush, who destroyed our Iraq and our youth, should be tried. [Israeli Prime Minister] Sharon, who is butchering Muslims in Palestine should be tried. Then let them come and try Saddam. We do not accept this," the Iraqi added.

Another interviewed Baghdad resident said: "Saddam Hussein should not be tried. He is a great man. He is the leader of this great people."

In Najaf however, it was a different story, with al-Jazeera using the opinions of those who want not only justice but vengeance for the years of Saddam Hussein's rule.

"Saddam ruled for 35 years during which he executed a lot of people, made a lot of people homeless and tortured a lot of people. We want a fair trial conducted by the people," said a local resident.

Another Iraqi said that "Saddam Hussein killed our brothers, friends, fathers and our elders. We want the hero [appointed Iraqi Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi to avenge us".

'Star of the season'

Newspapers across the Middle East have voiced reservations about the trial.

Anfal campaign against Kurds, late 1980s
Gassing Kurds in Halabja, 1988
Invasion of Kuwait , 1990
Crushing Kurdish and Shia rebellions after 1991 Gulf War
Killing political activists over 30 years
Massacring members of Kurdish Barzani tribe in 1980s
Killing religious leaders, 1974

In Saudi Arabia, al-Riyadh addressed the question of whether the trial would show the former Iraqi leader as a criminal or a hero and suggested that it would in any case make him the "star of the season".

The pan-Arab daily, Al-Hayat, cautioned Iraq's new leaders to take the greatest care of their "enemy", posing the question: "Does the Iraqi government really want to have a trial with only the prosecution in attendance where it issues the verdict in advance?"

Most newspapers are united in calling for justice to be seen to be done - al-Ittihad in the United Arab Emirates says Iraqis are not seeking vengeance but the establishment of the principle of an independent judiciary.

The Baghdad edition of al-Sharq al-Awsat takes this a step further.

It says the trial should be a school to teach the responsibility of leadership, showing how - it says - yesterday's government should have behaved and how today's and tomorrow's should behave when dealing with people and challenges to its existence.

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"At last. Saddam Hussein accused"

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