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Last Updated: Monday, 24 April 2006, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Trial hears 'Saddam phone call'
Defendants in Baghdad court
All eight defendants were in court on Monday
Prosecutors at Saddam Hussein's trial have played a recording said to be of a phone call in which Saddam discussed a crackdown on Shia with a co-defendant.

During the call, the ousted leader allegedly discussed the destruction of farmland in Dujail with former Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

Saddam and seven co-defendants face charges for their alleged role in the killings of 148 Shia Muslims in Dujail.

The trial was adjourned until 15 May, when the defence case is due to begin.

In the recording played to the court, a voice said to be that of Taha Ramadan said the destruction of farmland and palm groves in Dujail was nearly completed, and that owners would receive compensation, the Associated Press reported.

It also talked of moving "suspect elements" out of Dujail, and bringing in "replacements".

A voice said to be that of Saddam Hussein was heard asking questions, but the sound was not clear, the agency said.

Signatures 'confirmed'

The Baghdad court also heard a report by handwriting experts confirming Saddam Hussein signed documents ordering the killing of the 148 Shia villagers, after an assassination attempt in 1982.

I have my reservations about the accusations that the signatures and handwriting is real
Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti,
Former Iraqi vice-president

The chief judge, Raouf Abdel Rahman, read a report by an expanded five-member team of handwriting experts, who backed the conclusion heard in court last week that Saddam Hussein had personally signed documents relating to the crackdown.

Defence lawyers have insisted the signatures are forged. They have also contested the impartiality of the handwriting experts, who they say are linked to Iraq's interior ministry.

The new report also confirmed the signature of former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother, but he disputed the evidence again, saying it was an attempt to ruin the reputations of the accused.

 Barzan al-Tikriti
Barzan al-Tikriti said the evidence was aimed at ruining his reputation
"I have my reservations about the accusations that the signatures and handwriting is real," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

He also used the film Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, as an example of how easy it would be to forge signature, including his.

The Hollywood blockbuster tells the true story of a con man who stole more than $2.5 million (1.4m).

While the new reports confirmed the signatures of Saddam and six co-defendants, they did not verify a signature said to be from the seventh co-defendant, Mizher Abdullah Rawed.

Death penalty

The 148 Shia villagers were tried by Iraq's Revolutionary Court in 1982 and later executed.

At earlier hearings, Saddam Hussein acknowledged signing execution orders, saying it was his duty as president of Iraq. But he later appeared to dispute their authenticity.

Defence lawyers have demanded 45 days to study the new handwriting evidence before commenting.

They are due to start presenting their case when the trial resumes on 15 May, and are expected to call dozens of witnesses.

If convicted, Saddam Hussein is expected to face the death penalty.

Earlier this month the court announced he would face new charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Those charges relate to the Anfal military campaign against Kurds in northern Iraq in the late 1980s, in which as many as 180,000 people may have died.

The case will be tried separately.



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