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Iraqis Differ On Whether To Hold Quick Saddam Trial


The announcement that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein could be brought to trial as early as September, has triggered a mixed response, with some Iraqis, including victims of Saddam's brutal rule, advocating a postponement.

The special tribunal set up to build criminal cases against Saddam Hussein focused on the 1982 massacre of nearly 160 Shi'ite men in a village called Dujail, after the men there were accused of trying to assassinate Saddam.

On Sunday, the tribunal's investigative judges said that months of pain-staking research uncovered enough evidence to try the Sunni Arab dictator and three of his associates for the Dujail massacre in less than two months time. Twelve other cases are pending against Saddam and each could carry a death sentence.

But the tribunal's announcement, which was expected to bring joy to most Iraqis, is being met with decidedly mixed emotions.

Minority Sunni Arabs, who had long held the reins of power in Iraq under Saddam, have been resentful and distrusting of the Shi'ite-led government which took power in January elections. Attacks against Shi'ites have been on the rise in recent months, fueling fears that Iraq could slide into civil war.

Mustafa al-Tahaan, a Shi'ite who works as a mobile phone salesman in Baghdad, says he worries that trying Saddam in the middle of a raging Sunni-led insurgency could create more problems for Shi'ite Muslims.

He says he thinks this is a dangerous time to put Saddam Hussein on trial. Iraqis should use this time to unify Sunnis and Shi'ites, not find ways to divide us even more, Mr. Tahaan says.

The Iraqi government, made up largely of Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders who fought against Saddam Hussein for decades in exile, has been anxious to put Saddam on trial, arguing that there was no reason to waste time.

But a Sunni school teacher, Omar al-Jabouri, questions whether all Iraqis and Arabs in the region would accept the results of a trial, which uses judicial laws put in place by American authorities after the fall of Saddam in 2003.

We all know that Saddam Hussein is a bad man who had committed many crimes against Iraqis. But he should not be placed on trial before we have a chance to enact our own laws, which would be the only way this trial could be seen as legitimate, Mr. Jabouri says.

Saddam remains in custody, following his capture by American troops in December, 2003 at a farmhouse near his hometown of Tikrit.

Ali Hussein is a member of the Kurdish Pesh Merga militia, who says he still seethes with anger when he thinks about Saddam ordering the use of chemical weapons to kill five thousand Kurdish civilians in the village of Halabja in 1988.

Anytime is a good time to try Saddam Hussein,Mr. Hussein says. He needs to be brought to justice for what he has done, no matter what the cost.

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