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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK
A day in court at Saddam's trial
By Andrew North
BBC News, Baghdad

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in court on 15 May 2006
Saddam Hussein refused to enter a plea
Saddam Hussein's name echoed round the court chamber, as an official called for him to be brought in.

He was the first defendant in the dock on Monday.

A side door opened and the man himself stepped through, flanked by two Iraqi guards.

It was the start of the 24th session in the trial of Iraq's former leader and seven other defendants, in connection with the killings of nearly 150 people in the mainly Shia town of Dujail in the early 1980s.

But Monday was the first time formal charges were made.

'Fascination'

As in past appearances, he was wearing a dark suit and white shirt, buttoned up at the neck.

For a moment, he smiled - as he passed journalists, who are separated from the court room proper by a glass screen.

I am the president of Iraq according to the will of the Iraqis and I am still the president up to this moment
Saddam Hussein

Everyone in the court, judges, lawyers and guards, followed his progress.

Even now, nearly seven months into this trial, seeing the former Iraqi leader in the flesh is still a source of fascination.

He listened in silence as the judge read out a list of charges.

Saddam Hussein is accused of ordering his security forces to arrest almost 400 people from Dujail, many of whom were later tortured, as well as destroying the town's orchards as punishment. Nine people were allegedly killed at the time.

The former Iraqi strongman is also accused of approving the order that led to the execution of 148 Dujail residents two years later. Prosecutors say many had already died in custody.

Surprise reaction

Although the general charges against Saddam Hussein in this case were already known, judges had to set out the specific accusations under the Iraqi legal system - after hearing the prosecution case.

Defendants in Baghdad court
The prosecution completed its case against the eight last month

But Saddam Hussein refused to respond when asked for his formal plea.

He said he was still the Iraqi president, arguing that he was therefore protected by the constitution.

There have been many similar clashes before with the judge. But this one did not last long.

Instead, the judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

There was some surprise when Saddam Hussein simply sat down.

Summer verdict

His half-brother, former Iraqi intelligence chief Barzan al-Tikriti, was next to take the stand and was similarly defiant, dismissing charges that he organised the crackdown on Dujail as lies.

Also facing serious charges are the former Vice President, Taha Yassin Ramadan and Awad al-Bandar, judge of the special revolutionary court that sentenced the 148 people to death.

The other four defendants are minor former Baath party officials.

With the process of reading out the formal charges complete, it was the turn of the defence to begin their case.

This stage is expected to last at least a month, with lawyers saying they could call up to 60 witnesses.

The first five were called on Monday - all of them talking from behind a curtain to protect their identities - before proceedings were adjourned.

US advisers involved with the trial have predicted a verdict by late July or August.

But then Saddam Hussein and six other defendants are due to face charges of genocide in a much bigger case, relating to the 1988 Anfal campaign against Iraq's Kurds.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Iraqis speak about what the trial means to them



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