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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 November 2006, 13:16 GMT
Saddam dominates courtroom drama
By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News

The melodramatic end of Saddam Hussein's trial was as fascinating as the first moment when he stalked into the courtroom at the beginning of the trial, just over a year ago.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yells at the court as he receives his verdict
Saddam Hussein has given insurgents hope

But Saddam Hussein himself seemed a little different - less tense, less angry, more aware of his ability to manipulate the atmosphere and produce the effect he required.

Perhaps when the trial started he assumed it would be the kind of legal proceeding which had been followed when he was president, with the judge yelling insults at the accused.

This time, neatly dressed in a well-cut black suit and white shirt, he headed straight for his old chair in the dock and sat down. When the presiding judge ordered him to stand, he refused. "I will listen to the judgement," he said, "but I will sit."

In fact he did neither. The judge ordered the ushers to make him stand up. Although he shouted at them to take their hands off him, he remained standing afterwards.

There has been talk that the sentence might be commuted for political reasons, but a majority of Iraqis probably want him to die

But directly the judge pronounced the words: "He should suffer the death penalty by hanging", Saddam started shouting at him, often raising his fist or pointing his finger, and once brandishing a copy of the Koran in the air.

The judge did not pause. He lowered his head and read the rest of the verdict in a louder voice, while Saddam continued to shout at him.

Surprised at brevity

The other details of the verdict seemed bathetic: 10 years' imprisonment for forcibly displacing people, 10 years for torture as a crime against humanity.

Unnecessarily, the judge said the highest penalty would be imposed. The verdict, he said, had been unanimous among his four colleagues, sitting beside him out of the limelight.

Iraqis hold up an image of Saddam Hussein as they protest his death sentence verdict, in his hometown of Tikrit,
Many Iraqis still feel a little dazed by the sight of their former leader in the dock

And that was almost that. Perhaps Saddam Hussein himself was taken by surprise at the brevity of the proceedings.

There was a pause, then he shouted out "Long live Iraq! Long live the Iraqi people!"

These interjections of his have had an electrifying effect on his supporters in the Iraqi insurgency, and perhaps he knows that.

Times changed

Many Iraqis still feel a little dazed by the sight of their former leader in the dock.

In the past, you could be killed in a bath of acid for insulting the president. I have met a man sentenced to death in that way for writing a phone number on a banknote with Saddam's face on it.

His prospective executioners listened to his story, sympathised with him, and merely dipped him in the bath for a few seconds. He had some of the most hideous scars I have ever seen.

Now Saddam himself faces death by hanging. There has been talk that the sentence might be commuted for political reasons, but a majority of Iraqis probably want him to die.

But in a way Saddam has achieved a good deal. He has given new heart to his supporters and to the insurgency

Since the appeal process will be swift, and the constitution dictates that the sentence must be carried out within 30 days of the appeal's rejection, the execution could take place within the next few months.

But in a way Saddam has achieved a good deal.

He has given new heart to his supporters and to the insurgency.

He has made up for the humiliation of being pulled, dirty and dishevelled, from a hole in the ground.

And he has put his own stamp on the proceedings, from start to finish.

As he was escorted out of the courtroom today, I was standing only a couple of feet from him, in the press-box.

I watched a small smile pass across his face. He had achieved precisely what he had come to the courtroom to do.




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Saddam Hussein is told the verdict





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