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February 29, 2024

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Tribunal: Saddam will be hanged

BAGHDAD – Saddam Hussein was convicted yesterday and sentenced to hang for crimes against humanity in the 1982 killings of 148 people in a single Shiite town. The ousted leader, trembling and defiant, shouted “God is great!” as the judge handed down the verdict.

Saddam, his half brother and another senior official in his regime were convicted and sentenced to death by the Iraqi High Tribunal in one of the most highly publicized war crimes trials since the Nuremberg tribunals for members of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime and its slaughter of 6 million Jews in the World War II Holocaust.

As the verdict was read, Saddam yelled out, “Long live the people and death to their enemies. Long live the glorious nation, and death to its enemies!” Later, his lawyer said the former dictator called on Iraqis to reject sectarian violence and refrain from revenge against U.S. forces.

“The verdict placed on the heads of the former regime does not represent a verdict for any one person. It is a verdict on a whole dark era that was unmatched in Iraq’s history,” said Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shiite prime minister.

Some feared the court decision could exacerbate the sectarian violence that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war, after a trial that stretched over nine months in 39 sessions and ended nearly 3 1/2 months ago. The verdict came two days before midterm elections in the United States widely seen as a referendum on the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi officials have denied the timing was deliberate.

The White House praised the Iraqi judicial system and denied the U.S. had been “scheming” for the verdict.

Iraqis “are the ones who conducted the trial. The Iraqi judges are the ones who spent all the time poring over the evidence. … It’s important to give them credit for running their own government,” said Tony Snow, the president’s spokesman.

In north Baghdad’s heavily Sunni Azamiyah district, clashes broke out between police and gunmen. Elsewhere in the capital, celebratory gunfire rang out.

“This government will be responsible for the consequences, with the deaths of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands, whose blood will be shed,” Salih al-Mutlaq, a Sunni political leader, told the Al-Arabiya satellite television station.

Saddam and his seven co-defendants were on trial for a wave of revenge killings carried out in the city of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt on the former dictator. Al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa party, then an underground opposition, has claimed responsibility for organizing the attempt on Saddam’s life.

In the streets of Dujail, people celebrated and burned pictures of their former tormentor as the verdict was read.

Saddam’s chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi condemned the trial as a “farce,” claiming the verdict was planned. He said defense attorneys would appeal within 30 days.

The death sentences automatically go to a nine-judge appeals panel, which has unlimited time to review the case. If the verdicts and sentences are upheld, the executions must be carried out within 30 days.

A court official told The Associated Press that the appeals process was likely to take three to four weeks once the formal paperwork was submitted.

During yesterday’s hearing, Saddam initially refused the chief judge’s order to rise; two bailiffs pulled the ousted ruler to his feet and he remained standing through the sentencing, sometimes wagging his finger at the judge.

Before the session began, one of Saddam’s lawyers, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, was ejected from the courtroom after handing the judge a memorandum in which he called the trial a travesty.

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