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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 December 2005, 11:26 GMT
Analysis: Saddam tactic could backfire

By John Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor, Baghdad

Saddam Hussein has made good his threat from Tuesday evening, and refused to appear in court this morning.

Saddam gesticulates at trial
Saddam's campaign may be harmed by his inability to perform for the cameras

He says it is because of the way he has been treated here - "terrorism", he called it - and says he has been refused proper washing conditions and clean clothes over the past three days.

The trial judges met the defence lawyers this morning to see if they could reach some accommodation which would end the impasse.

But it does not mean the trial will be halted.

Iraqi law allows for a trial to continue in the physical absence of a defendant.

Alternative arrangements

Arrangements could easily be made for Saddam Hussein to follow the proceedings from another room.

There are several closed-circuit cameras in the court, and the pictures - though sometimes the coverage is heavily circumscribed - are broadcast across the world.

It would even be possible for Saddam to make interventions, if he chose, and if the senior judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, allowed him to do so.

It is possible, though there has been no confirmation of this, that the senior judge will try to intervene with the American security officials to ease the conditions in which Saddam and the other defendants are held.

Tactic could backfire

But on a day when the child of an Iraqi guard at the court has been kidnapped, security interests are likely to be paramount here.

If there is no deal, it seems likely that at least today Saddam will not appear in the courtroom.

That would of course detract from the effectiveness of the trial, but it might detract even more from the campaign Saddam has been waging from the dock.

Saddam has used his appearances in court to great effect... he has called on his followers to continue their fight against the American presence in Iraq; he has condemned the invasion of 2003 again and again; and he has questioned the legitimacy of the court to try him.

The effectiveness of that depends on seeing him wagging his finger at the judge, making his points, or cross-questioning the witnesses.

If he is no longer in court, it may make the judges' life easier but it will scarcely help him address his supporters and sympathisers in Iraq and in the wider world.

Limelight

Until now, many observers have felt that Saddam has used his appearances in court to great effect.

He has called on his followers to continue their fight against the American presence in Iraq; he has condemned the invasion of 2003 again and again; and he has questioned the legitimacy of the court to try him.

He has managed to present himself as the rightful leader of the country - "I am the President of Iraq," he said recently - and he has scored point after point as a result of his presence in court.

There is a strong feeling among the observers in the court that even if the immediate problem is not solved, then Saddam will soon want to show himself in front of the cameras again.

So far, they have been his greatest allies.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
John Simpson's assessment of Saddam Hussein's boycott



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