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In Genocide Trial, Chief Judge Says Saddam is ...Not A Dictator...

By Paul Von Zielbauer
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BAGHDAD, IRAQ

The chief judge in the genocide trial of Saddam Hussein assured the defendant on Thursday that he was “not a dictator,” a day after a court prosecutor demanded the judge be removed for showing bias toward Saddam and letting him harangue witnesses.

One witness, a Kurdish farmer, testified that in 1988 he had pleaded with Saddam for the life of his wife and seven young children. He said a furious Saddam shouted, “Shut up and get out.”

In court, Saddam jumped up to defend himself.

“Why did he try to see Saddam Hussein?” he asked the judge, referring to himself in the third person, as is his habit in court. “Wasn’t Saddam a dictator and an enemy to the Kurdish people, as they say?”

The judge replied: “I will answer you: You are not a dictator. Not a dictator,” he repeated. “You were not a dictator.”

Saddam, smiling, replied, “Thank you.”

The judge said, “The people or those who are around the official make him a dictator, and it is not just you. This is the case all over the world.” The judge, Abdullah al-Amiri, is a Shiite who had served as a judge in Saddam’s government.

Saddam and six other former high-ranking officials are accused of genocide in the killing of at least 50,000 Kurds, including many in chemical weapon strikes in a 1988 military campaign to eliminate them from the mountainous parts of Iraq’s far northeast.

The courtroom exchange happened on a day in which 49 bodies were found, apparently killed, around Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said. Five American soldiers also died in fighting on the outskirts of Baghdad and in northern Iraq, the military said.

Also Thursday, an Iraqi deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, said officials here would introduce legislation to parliament next month to disarm Shiite militias that have stoked an ongoing cycle of sectarian violence in Baghdad and throughout Iraq.

Salih, speaking to reporters in Washington, cast the legislation as an advanced step in a process that is already under way to urge militia leaders, foremost among them Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric who controls the Mahdi Army, to give up their weapons.

On Thursday, though, American military units and Iraqi Army and police forces began “clearing operations” in the Shaab and Ur neighborhoods, two districts controlled by the Mahdi Army.