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Last Updated: Monday, 13 December, 2004, 09:35 GMT
World still waits for Saddam trial

By Peter Greste
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

Saddam Hussein in video footage released by US forces in 2003
When found Saddam offered no resistance, the US said

On 14 December last year a triumphant Paul Bremer, then the American governor of Iraq, announced before a crowded news conference: "Ladies and gentlemen, we've got him."

US forces had captured Saddam Hussein the day before - the Ace of Spades in its infamous deck of cards.

The former dictator was hauled out of a hole in the ground near his home town of Tikrit, grubby, unshaven and dishevelled, without a shot being fired.

He was the man the Americans believed was guiding and directing the insurgency, and officials confidently predicted that without its figurehead, the resistance would crack and crumble.

In a television address, President Bush declared: "In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over."

General John Abizaid, head of the US Central Command, said the capture had dealt the insurgency "a huge psychological blow" that would "pay great benefits over time".

And the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Major General Jay Odierno, whose troops were credited with seizing Saddam, declared the insurgency to be "on its knees".

"Within six months I think you're going to see some normalcy," he added.

More troops

One year on, Iraq remains anything but normal.

Saddam Hussein under arrest - with beard and without beard

More American soldiers have died since Saddam's capture than before.

Insurgent attacks across the country last month averaged almost 100 a day - almost double July's figure when they were supposed to be disappearing.

The threat of kidnapping is now so rife that no Westerner dares walk the streets of any town, and the Pentagon is increasing troop numbers in Iraq to a record high of 150,000 to provide security for next month's elections.

Also one year on, Saddam is still awaiting trial. He has been held in an undisclosed prison somewhere in Iraq.

The American forces are responsible for his detention; a special tribunal of 40 Iraqi judges is preparing for his prosecution under Iraqi law.

'Poetry and gardening'

His jailers are being tight-lipped about the conditions in which he is being held.

All they will confirm is that he is still inside the country and being granted the rights due to any prisoner.

But in August this year, Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin told The Guardian newspaper that the ex-president whiles away his time writing poetry, tending his garden, and reading the Koran.

He is being held with 11 other political associates, including his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali", although they are being isolated from other detainees.

The original plan had been to bring Saddam and his henchmen to a relatively quick trial - possibly within six months.

That date has repeatedly slipped, due in part to the lack of experience amongst the Iraqi investigators who have to sift through tonnes of documents, and due also to deteriorating security, which is severely hampering their work.

The latest advice from the interim government is that the trials will take place in the first half of next year, but not before elections on 30 January.

The justice ministry said it expects that Chemical Ali and Saddam's half brother Watban Ibrahim Al Hassan would face the courts first, followed by the ex-dictator.

It has already been described as "the trial of the century".

But it is unlikely to be the wrapping up of affairs in Iraq that Washington might have hoped for one year ago.




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See pictures of Saddam Hussein's hide-out



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