Defence boycotts Saddam genocide trial
Updated: 2006-09-25 16:33

BAGHDAD (AFP) - The genocide trial of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein resumed without his defence team which is boycotting the proceedings in protest at what it branded government pressure on the court.

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein sits in the dock during his trial in Baghdad. The genocide trial of Saddam resumed without his defence team which is boycotting the proceedings in protest at what it branded government pressure on the court. [AFP]

Last week, the Iraqi government sacked chief judge Abdullah al-Ameri after he said Saddam was not a "dictator," and replaced him with Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifah, a Shiite who was a deputy presiding judge.

Saddam was in the dock on Monday, but his defence team stayed away.

"In light of the latest developments, and the fundamental mistakes made by the court before that, as well as the huge pressure the government has put on the court, the defence team has decided to boycott Monday's hearing," chief defence attorney Khalil al-Dulaimi had told AFP in Amman on Sunday.

"The defence team will not recognise the legitimacy of this court and does not accept the tailor-made decision taken by the occupying forces.

"It is not about this judge or that judge, but from day one we have protested the legitimacy and the bias of this court."

At the last hearing on Wednesday, Khalifah stamped his mark on the proceedings by throwing Saddam out of court when the former strongman rose to complain against him.

The defence team also walked out to protest the sacking of Ameri.

Saddam and six of his former colleagues face charges including genocide for spearheading a military campaign against the Kurds in 1987-1988 that prosecutors say left 182,000 people dead.

They face the death penalty if found guilty.

Dulaimi had also criticised the competence of the new judge, saying Khalifah graduated only in 2004 and "does not have the experience needed".

"The defence team will mull its next move in consultation with our client," Dulaimi added.

Khalifah, meanwhile, has provided court-appointed lawyers for the defendants who were in court Monday.

Last week, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the decision to transfer Ameri was taken to preserve the "neutrality of the court".

At Wednesday's hearing, the court heard from five Kurdish witnesses who told how their villages were gassed by Saddam's forces during the so-called Anfal campaign against Kurds in the final years of the Iran- Iraq war.

Ahmed Qader described how after an attack on a nearby village, he and his brother collected dozens of gassed bodies and buried them.

"My eyes were watering and I was shaking, but there was no other way to help," he said. "Their eyes were popping out and their noses and mouths were bleeding."

Other Kurdish witnesses described their time in Iraqi prisons, including one woman who watched her niece and nephew die causing her to break down.

"A woman asked me what's the matter and I told her that my nephew and niece had died and she said that her own son had just died as well and we cried together until morning," said Shamsa Rustum.

She only found out about her husband's death when their identity cards turned up in a mass grave in 2005. She then asked the court to return the two identity cards, which were being used as evidence, in memory of her lost husband.

Saddam and seven former cohorts are also awaiting a verdict due in October in a trial over the killing of 148 Shiite villagers after an attempt on the ousted Iraqi leader's life in 1982.