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Saddam storms out of court
Updated: 2006-01-30 08:19

The troubled trial of Saddam Hussein collapsed into chaos moments after resuming on Sunday as the former Iraqi president and his defense team stormed out and guards dragged his half-brother from the courtroom.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein gestures during his trial held under tight security in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone January 29, 2006. Saddam's trial descended into chaos moments after resuming on Sunday as the former Iraqi president and his defence team walked out in protest and guards dragged his half-brother from the courtroom. [Reuters]
Saddam's lawyers threatened to boycott future sessions unless the chief judge apologized, and called for the trial to be moved abroad, saying a fair hearing in Iraq was impossible.

The dramatic scenes were played out as a new chief judge, Raouf Abdel Rahman, tried to stamp his authority on the court, telling lawyers he would not allow them to make political statements in the U.S.-backed court.

"I am the judge and you are the defendant," Abdel Rahman told Saddam as he checked an outburst by the former Iraqi president, who complained: "This is an American court and it's rules are American ... you cannot force me to stay in court."

Abdel Rahman is under pressure to deal firmly with Saddam after the government accused his predecessor, who resigned two weeks ago, of being too lenient on the former Iraqi leader. Saddam's courtroom tirades have dominated proceedings.

The walkouts by Saddam, two co-defendants and their legal team after verbally sparring with the no-nonsense Abdel Rahman, and the judge's expulsion of a fourth accused, will raise fresh concerns about the court's ability to stage a fair trial.

Within minutes of the start, Abdel Rahman ejected Saddam's former intelligence chief and half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, after he refused to keep quiet and called the trial "a daughter of a whore." Barzan was dragged out by court guards.

"This court is not a place for political speeches," said Abdel Rahman, a 64-year-old Kurd whose hometown is Halabja, where 5,000 people died in a gas attack during an offensive by Saddam's forces in 1988.

The chief of Saddam's legal team, Khalil al-Dulaimi, protested: "this trial is not fair," and the defense lawyers walked out.

"If you leave then you can't come back for future sessions," said Abdel Rahman.

When the judge then tried to impose court-appointed lawyers on Saddam, the former Iraqi leader turned to them, and shaking his finger, said: "I reject you. If you stay here you are evil."

"I want to leave," Saddam, dressed in a dark suit and a white collared shirt, then told the judge.

"Then leave," said Abdel Rahman.

"It is a tragedy. I led you for 35 years. How can you lead me out of court? Shame on you," said Saddam, who is on trial for crimes against humanity.

He then left the courtroom, and was followed by his former vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, and Awad Hamed al-Bander, a former chief judge in his Revolutionary Court.


Abdel-Rahman was determined not to allow the walkouts to derail proceedings, calling three new witnesses, two women and a man. They testified from behind a light gray curtain, as other witnesses have done, to conceal their identity.

A senior member of Saddam's defense team, Khamis al-Aubeide, said the lawyers would boycott the next hearing unless the judge apologized for expelling Barzan and one of the defense counsel, who was ejected after questioning the legitimacy of the court.

"Barzan was only explaining the circumstance of his illness, asking for medical care because he has cancer. Does that mean he deserves to be expelled?" said Aubeide.

Saddam would not attend the next session, scheduled for February 1 or February 2, if his lawyers were not present, Aubeide said.

Saddam and seven co-accused are charged with killing 148 men from the Shi'ite town of Dujail after a bid to assassinate him there in 1982.

"In view of the biased policies adopted by the court's chief judge to push for a quick conviction, we are demanding that the trial be moved outside Iraq to put an end to this farce," Saddam chief counsel Duleimi told Reuters.

The court has been in turmoil since Kurdish chief judge Rizgar Amin resigned, complaining of pressure from the Shi'ite-led government to speed up the process and be firmer in his handling of Saddam.

The trial has been marred by delays since getting under way last October. Two members of the defense team have been murdered, and Amin's original replacement was accused last week of being a former member of Saddam's Baath party.

Some human rights groups have criticized the former U.S. occupation authority's decision to try Saddam and his aides in Iraq rather than in an international court. They say subsequent events have reinforced their view that sectarian and ethnic conflict make a fair trial in Baghdad hard to achieve.

Sunday's session was the eighth since the trial began on October 19.

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