| Saddam Hussein in the courthouse in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Baghdad, April 5 (Reuters): Ousted President Saddam Hussein, on trial for crimes against humanity, accused Iraq’s new Shia-run interior ministry of killing and torturing thousands of Iraqis when he returned to court today.
Sunni Arabs, who were dominant during his rule, accuse the ministry of running death squads and Saddam said it was now the “side that kills thousands in the street and tortures them”.
Saddam, who could face death by hanging, remained defiant one day after the court announced new charges that he ordered genocide against the ethnic Kurds in the late 1980s. When the judge interrupted him, Saddam said: “If you’re scared of the interior minister, he doesn’t scare my dog.” The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.
Saddam may be in the dock again for another trial as early as next month, potentially leading to a drawn-out legal process in a country where most people want closure on a bloody past and a future free of bloodshed that has raised fears of civil war.
Iraqi politicians and court officials are already sending mixed signals on whether he would be executed if found guilty in one trial, or be tried on new charges in another first. And the latest outbursts suggested chances of accelerating proceedings were slim.
Chief judge Raouf Abdel Rahman and one of Saddam’s lawyers, Bushra Khalil, had several heated exchanges which resulted in her being thrown out of court.
Guards escorted her out after she held up what appeared to be a picture of a pile of prisoners at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison, scene of a prisoner abuse scandal in 2004.
“This is what the Americans did to Iraqis in Abu Ghraib,” said the Lebanese lawyer who was told to stop screaming.
She was visibly angered by a black and white video that showed a younger Saddam saying: “Those who die in interrogation have no value.”
Saddam, whose word was law in Iraq for decades, seemed unfazed by it all, sitting in the dock and telling the judge: “There was no need for you to do that.” Saddam, who still calls himself the president of Iraq, also challenged chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi, a member of the Shia community Saddam is accused of torturing and putting in mass graves.
“If you want to put the whale into the net, which I don’t think you do, you have to tell the truth,” he told Moussawi. “Don’t be upset with me. I am older than you and I have a higher rank and better history and yet I am not upset with you.”
Moussawi held up the plastic-coated identification cards of Iraqi teenage boys he said were executed under Saddam’s orders; names such as Mahdi Hussein, 14, and Fouad al-Aswady, 15. Saddam, who ruled Iraq for three decades, dismissed the identification cards, saying they could easily be forged in any market. “I can find some identity cards from Mureydi market.”
Saddam refused to sign documents, saying that only an international court would be fair, and denounced the interior ministry as he faced cross examination for first time.