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Iraqi Judges Delay Verdict in Hussein's First Trial

October 04, 2006|From the Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Judges have postponed the verdict in the war crimes trial of ousted President Saddam Hussein, an Iraqi court announced Tuesday, a delay that comes amid growing concern that any ruling would sharpen Iraq's deadly sectarian divide.

A death sentence for the former leader could enrage Sunni Arabs, while anything less is sure to spark Shiite fury.

When the trial began nearly a year ago, U.S. and Iraqi officials touted the tribunal as a way to help heal Iraq's divisions.

In the last year, Shiite-Sunni divisions have grown, with thousands killed by Sunni insurgents and death squads from both Muslim sects.

Many Sunni Arabs -- who are a minority in Iraq but were dominant under Hussein -- see the tribunal as a show trial by the new Shiite leadership to take revenge on the ousted president.

"There is sympathy with Saddam, especially because what we see now makes many nostalgic for him," said Khalaf Aliyan, a Sunni lawmaker, referring to the violence in Iraq since Hussein's ouster by U.S.-led forces in April 2003. "So there could be a reaction if there is a death sentence."

Meanwhile, Shiites have made it clear that they will accept only execution for Hussein, whose regime persecuted their majority community and Kurds.

"Anything less than a death sentence will be a neglect of justice," said Hassan Suneid, a Shiite lawmaker. "I think it could be a disaster."

A court official said the verdict could be put off until late this month or early November.

The former president and seven codefendants face possible execution by hanging if found guilty of crimes against humanity over a crackdown on Shiites in the town of Dujayl after a 1982 attempt there on Hussein's life. A five-judge panel will decide on the verdict by a majority vote.

Court spokesman Raid Juhi did not link the delay to concern about tensions in Iraq. He said the judges had been reviewing the evidence and testimony.

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