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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006, 22:12 GMT 23:12 UK
Farce and gravity at Saddam trial
By Mike Wooldridge
BBC world affairs correspondent

Saddam Hussein had just had the charge of genocide - over the death of tens of thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s - added to the charges he already faces.

Saddam Hussein in court
Saddam Hussein remains prone to outbursts in court

Now, hours later, here he was arguing with a judge about being asked by the court to stand with his back to the bench facing the gallery.

"We are in heaven and those who ordered us to sit that way are in hell," the deposed president fulminated.

"Neither Arabs nor Kurds sit that way. Maybe Persians sit that way. This is an insult to the court."

As I watched from the press gallery while Saddam Hussain swivelled round several times to make his point, I wondered whether he was even aware that his present trial - on charges of killing 148 Shias in Dujail in 1982 - looks as if it will be overshadowed within weeks by the new trial.

Given to outbursts in court as he is, would he have chosen an issue of courtroom manners for his first tirade of the day if he had known about the genocide charge?

'Emotional' women

In the event, courtroom manners were challenged for much of the day.

But one of the most acrimonious exchanges of all went, literally, over Saddam Hussein's head.

You are scared of the interior minister. He doesn't scare my dog
Saddam Hussein addressing Judge Raouf

He sat alone in the dock amid an argument that erupted between the lawyers after the prosecution played a video showing a considerably younger Saddam Hussein saying that people killed during interrogation were worthless to him.

The team of defence lawyers took turns at the microphone to protest.

But one of the lawyers, Bushra al-Khaleel, went further than her colleagues.

Clearly concerned that she was making no impression on either the prosecution or the judge, she pulled out from her papers three pictures of Iraqi prisoners being abused by US forces.

Saddam Hussein in court
Saddam Hussein was alone in the dock on Wednesday

She was evicted from the court and threatened with legal action.

Later, after one of her male colleagues appealed to the judge to be lenient on the grounds that women are "emotional", she was allowed to return on condition that she agreed to respect the court.

She said outside the court that she had wanted to draw attention to what was happening in Iraq today.

Fundamental change

Saddam Hussein may have sat out that particular altercation but he also made an attempt of his own once again to bring contemporary politics into the trial with his allegation that the present day interior ministry has killed and tortured thousands of Iraqis.

When the judge tried to stop him, Saddam Hussein said: "You are scared of the interior minister. He doesn't scare my dog."

There is something of a theatrical dimension to many trials and they often feature exchanges that are very much at odds with the gravity of the evidence.

This was a day when the Saddam Hussein trial fitted that mould.

At one point the former president told the prosecutor: "You were a small soldier and I made you a lawyer."

The prosecutor insisted he had became a lawyer in his own right.

During one of the less tempestuous periods of the day Saddam Hussein addressed the judge as "Mr Raouf".

"You call me Judge!" came the reply.

There were smiles around a sombre court and the proceedings moved on.

But perhaps that very exchange illustrates one fundamental change in Iraq as it marks the third anniversary of the ousting of the man in the dock.


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