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Hussein Faces Tribunal Today In First Trial for Actions in Iraq

"They have the right to say what they want," Mousawi said of the critics, "and we have the right and the power to reply. We are confident of what we have in this case, the evidences with the defendants' statements and documents with their signatures."

Asked what was going through his mind on the eve of the trial's start, Mousawi said he was "excited to achieve justice."

The other defendants in the case are Barzan Ibrahim, Hussein's half brother and the head of Iraq's intelligence service until 2003; Taha Yassin Ramadan, Iraq's vice president until 2003; Awad Haman Bander Sadun, former chief of Hussein's Revolutionary Court, which sentenced many of the Dujail men to death; Abdullah Kadhim Ruweid, a senior Baath Party official in Dujail who is accused of rounding up the local residents after the assassination attempt; Mizher Abdullah Ruweid, his son; and two other senior Baath Party officials in Dujail, Ali Daeem Ali and Mohammed Azawi Ali.

If convicted, all could face death by hanging. Under one of the revisions approved by the Iraqi parliament but not yet formally implemented, any sentence would be carried out within 30 days of a final appeal decision. That means Hussein might never be tried for other crimes of which he has been accused, including the campaign against the Kurds that killed at least 180,000, the deadly suppression of Shiite uprisings in southern Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the invasion of Kuwait.

Sources close to the tribunal have said that the proceedings that begin Wednesday will probably last only a day or two while the tribunal addresses motions and technicalities. Hussein's defense is likely to request a recess to provide more time to prepare, the sources said, and the tribunal will probably grant it. The sources expect the recess to last several weeks, perhaps until the first of the year.

When the trial resumes, the prosecution would begin outlining its case, calling witnesses and presenting evidence. That phase could last several months, the same sources said. But few expect it to drag out for years.

The trial will be held in the fortified Green Zone in a courtroom built specifically for these proceedings within Hussein's former Republican Palace compound. The marble-lined, chandelier-hung courtroom has a screen to protect the anonymity of some witnesses, according to the Reuters news service. Hussein and his seven co-defendants will face the five judges, though it is not clear if the judges' identities will be revealed. The tribunal will allow televised coverage.

U.S. and Iraqi security forces are on high alert for the trial, which some people anticipate will encourage renewed violence following Saturday's relatively quiet constitutional referendum.

Asked if he thought the Hussein trial would spur insurgent attacks, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari said: "Iraqis in general are not sympathetic to him. I don't think they will shed any tears."

Luai Baldawi, editor in chief of al-Mutamar newspaper in Baghdad, said most Iraqis were eager for the trial to begin. "Hussein represented all Iraq; that is why Iraqis put all the responsibilities to what happened to Iraq on Hussein," Baldawi said. Nonetheless, Iraqis seem split over the fairness of the process, he said.

In the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad on Tuesday, residents reflected that sentiment. "There should be an Iraqi court to try Hussein," said Muhanned Abbas, 30, who was buying gasoline from a black-market vendor. "The special tribunal is formed by the Americans and will not try Hussein as the Iraqis want but as America wants."

Mohammed Othman, 45, a pharmacist, said that no matter what the outcome, the trial would not change anything. "Hussein is gone," he said. "There would be no difference if he is tried or not. We should focus on how to build our country and how to be united. We should forget about the past and focus on the future."

Correspondent Ellen Knickmeyer and special correspondents Omar Fekeiki, Bassam Sebti and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Salih Saif Aldin in Dujail contributed to this report.

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