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Iraqis Give Mixed Reaction to Saddam's Court Appearance - 2004-07-01

Iraqis had an array of responses, including happiness, anger, jubilance and calls for punishment Thursday, after seeing their former leader, Saddam Hussein, charged with numerous crimes he allegedly committed during his decades in power in Iraq.

There were emotional responses from Iraqis Thursday as new images of Saddam Hussein appeared on television screens for the first time since his capture in December. Bearded, thin and argumentative, he sat before a special judge who read a list of seven criminal charges contained in the initial Iraqi arrest warrant for the former president.

The man in charge of media relations for Iraq's Human Rights Society, William Warda, said Saddam appeared to be a much different man Thursday than at any time during his rule over Iraq. Mr. Warda said he was pleased to see what he thought was a defeated expression on Saddam's face.

"Really, I am happy to see Saddam in the bad situation in his face," he said. "To show him feeling as a very poor man and ask for help, and it's making me happy. Really, because really he was showing himself as a tough man, but now he's begging for help and it makes me happy for such kinds of pictures."

At a local coffee shop in downtown Baghdad, 50-year-old el-Hajj Hassan said his heart raced when he saw Saddam on television.

Mr. Hassan says this is a "historic" day for all the people of Iraq, and he says he feels very happy to see Saddam in what he called, "the cage" - meaning the defendant's chair. Mr. Hassan says Saddam crossed all the lines of humanity in his harsh treatment of the Iraqi people, and he should be punished for it.

Iraqi radio broadcaster Janan Giorgees said the majority of people who telephone her Baghdad radio station say Saddam should face the death penalty. More than anything, she says, Iraqis want justice.

Ms. Giorgees says Iraqis want the judge to give Saddam a fair and just trial, but she also says justice can be nothing less than punishment for the ex-president.

Another Iraqi radio station says about 40 percent of callers during a recent radio program said Saddam Hussein should be released. Some callers indicated they were sympathetic toward Saddam because they said he is an Arab nationalist who, among other things, spoke out against the United States and Israel.

But, according to Hassan al-Musfr, a Shi'ite Muslim who lives in Baghdad, if Saddam Hussein were to be released, it would incite deep outrage in millions of Iraqis.

Mr. al-Musfr says a decision to release Saddam Hussein would definitely be rejected by Iraqis. He said no one would accept such a decision because, he says, Saddam did so much harm to the Iraqi people.

Many Iraqis said Thursday, there is no punishment severe enough to make up for the decades of torture they say Saddam Hussein inflicted on their country. There was a round of applause and laughter at coffee shop in Baghdad Thursday, when one man stood up and suggested the former leader should be put in a cage and displayed at the local zoo.

So anxious are many Iraqis to see justice in the case of Saddam Hussein, that some of the same people who say they do not believe in the legality of the current United Nations-appointed interim Iraqi government, say they do believe it is legitimate for the justice system formed by that government to put Saddam on trial.