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In Courtroom, Hussein Acts Out Old Role With Flourish

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 7, 2005; Page A01

BAGHDAD, Dec. 6 -- According to Saddam Hussein, the would-be assassins who ambushed his car near an Iraqi village in 1982 were working for Iran, his trial for destroying that village afterward is just an excuse for Americans to stay in Iraq, and the Iraqi judge and prosecutors are underlings preoccupied with unimportant matters.

"Do you think Saddam Hussein has no work? I have no time," the former dictator scoffed during the fourth day of his trial Tuesday, implying that the killing of more than 140 villagers, and the torture and imprisonment of hundreds more, was a trivial matter and that he had larger issues to worry about.


Saddam Hussein, front addresses the court as Awad Hamed al-Bander, front, left, part seen, and Taha Yassin Ramadan, right, listen in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone on Monday.
Saddam Hussein, front addresses the court as Awad Hamed al-Bander, front, left, part seen, and Taha Yassin Ramadan, right, listen in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone on Monday. (David Furst - AP)

By his comments and demeanor during his trial, which is being conducted in Arabic, Hussein has made clear that he sees the proceedings through a potentate's prism. His current predicament, he suggests, is another plot by the foes he faced as president of Iraq and his place in the defendants' dock is a temporary setback.

"America wants to execute Saddam Hussein. It is not the first time," he said, referring to himself regally in the third person.

The performance has heartened his followers. In Tikrit, the hub of Hussein's home region, a large crowd of demonstrators chanted their loyalty on Tuesday. Several marchers said they were emboldened by his courtroom bravado in defiance of a possible death sentence.

The proceedings Tuesday painted a sordid picture of authorities exacting brutal punishment on the village of Dujail, 35 miles north of Baghdad, after shots were fired at Hussein's motorcade there 23 years ago. Five witnesses told of relatives being killed and of horrific imprisonment and sadistic torture visited on the villagers after the incident.

But as he has listened, Hussein has not conceded an inch. Far from acting as a deflated tough stripped of power, he has exuded the haughtiness of a man who says -- and appears to believe -- that he is still the president of Iraq.

"I didn't say 'former.' I said I am the president of the Republic of Iraq," he admonished the judge on the first day of the trial, Oct. 19. "If you are an Iraqi, then you know." The trial was then adjourned for more than a month, resuming last week.

On Tuesday, as he started a disjointed cross-examination of a witness, Hussein lectured the courtroom lawyers on procedure as though he were still the country's leader. "Pay attention, young men," he said.

And he appears to revel in that role. Most of the co-defendants stand to respect him when he enters. His half brother and former secret police chief, Barzan Ibrahim, kisses his head in respect.

In his lectures and outbursts, Hussein has wrapped himself in the cloak of a noble, pan-Arab leader still bearing the burdens of power.

"Even if I were thrown into the inferno . . . I would not show a sign of pain, all for your sake," he said expansively to the judge Tuesday.


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