Fiery Saddam prompts judge to ban media from court

A COMBATIVE Saddam Hussein formally took the stand at his trial on Wednesday and urged Iraqis to fight “invaders”, prompting the judge to bar reporters from the court the former president denounced as a “comedy”.

“I call on the people to star

t resisting the invaders instead of killing each other,” Saddam told the chamber in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.
 
The toppled leader warned Iraqis to avoid civil war in a country he ruled with an iron fist for three decades, otherwise “you will live in darkness and rivers of blood”.

Apparently fearful that Saddam’s rhetoric could incite bloodshed, court officials have reserved the right to censor sessions, which are broadcast across the world, despite describing the trial as transparent.

Saddam and seven co-accused face hanging if convicted on charges of crimes against humanity for the killing of 148 Shi’ites after an assassination attempt on him in the town of Dujail in 1982.

Prosecutors hope the Dujail case will prove more clear-cut than other more complex cases involving charges of genocide, where Saddam’s responsibility may be more difficult to prove.
 
Court sessions have been frequently dominated by tirades from Saddam and his former intelligence chief Barzan al-Tikriti in a trial already marred by boycotts, the killing of two defence lawyers and the resignation of the chief judge.

Wearing a dark suit, white shirt and no tie, Saddam calmly read from a yellow notebook in the US-sponsored court.
As Saddam’s speech became more political, chief judge Raouf Abdel Rahman began switching off his microphone and warning an increasingly vociferous Saddam to talk only about Dujail. Following a heated exchange, the judge declared the court closed to the public but reopened it after nearly two hours.
 
Turning to sectarian violence that has pushed the country towards civil war, Saddam called on all Iraqis to unite.
“Go back to fight the aggressors rather than killing each other … I call on Iraqis, men and women,” he said.
 
Still calling himself the president of Iraq and commander of the armed forces, Saddam angered the chief judge with his political grandstanding. Abdel Rahman, a slight figure, told Saddam his days as Iraqi leader were over.
 
“Don’t make a political speech. Now you are a defendant. This is your destiny and your role (as president) is over.

Defend yourself and avoid political speeches,” he told Saddam.
 
Saddam responded: “If it was not for politics I would not be here and neither would you.”
Calling the court a “comedy against Saddam Hussein and his comrades”, the former president repeated slogans that Iraqis heard in his pan-Arab Baathist state for years, describing himself as the “sword” of the Iraqi people.
The trial was adjourned until April 5 after defence lawyers asked the court for more time to study documents the chief prosecutor said implicated defendants.
Earlier, Saddam’s once-feared intelligence chief Barzan al- Tikriti told the court his hands were “as clean as Moses”.
Once regarded as one of the most ruthless men in Iraq, Saddam’s half-brother Barzan showed unusual self-restraint as he testified. He denied any responsibility but said Saddam had the right to punish people who had tried to assassinate him.

“Is there any government in the world that would not punish assailants after an assassination attempt on the head of its state?” he asked the court.
 
During his last appearance on March 1, Saddam said he had ordered the trials of the 148 men but justified the sentences as entirely legal, asking: “Where is the crime?”
 
An official close to the court said that during the almost two hours reporters were barred from the marble-lined chamber Saddam briefly referred to Dujail, insisting he acted according to law. Saddam continued with his political speech despite having lost his audience, the official said.

l Meanwhile, a US Treasury official said on Wednesday that the United States is still uncertain about how much money former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein left hidden in bank accounts and other financial institutions around the globe before his ouster nearly three years ago.

Jeffrey Ross, a senior adviser to the Treasury’s Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes division, said it had helped track down more than US$2 billion in assets linked to Saddam in an ongoing search that began after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.

Most of that money, from about 41 countries and 2 100 different accounts, has already been returned to Saddam’s homeland and put under control of the Development Fund for Iraq, Ross said.

He said the assets included more than US$260 million that had been held by the Commercial Bank of Syria, which was repatriated under intense US pressure last August.

The US Treasury Department has accused the state-run Syrian bank of being used by terrorists to move funds and acting as a conduit for the laundering of proceeds generated from the illicit sale of Iraqi oil. — Reuter.

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