Former Iraqi deputy leader testifies in Saddam trial

Former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz took the witness stand on Wednesday to defend Saddam Hussein and his associates in a case involving the killing of Shi’ite civilians from Dujail in the 1980s.

While he was not involved with the events of Dujail itself, his testimony focused on the series of assassination attempts against officials of the Ba’ath regime at that time, which Aziz blamed on the Shi’ite Dawa Party of the current prime minister.

“The president is not guilty, nor are any of the officials in the government, just because they punished those who tried to assassinate the head of state,” he told the court.

An assassination attempt against Saddam in Dujail in 1982 sparked a harsh crackdown and the killing of 148 people from the Shi’ite town, as well as the arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of people and the destruction of their orchards.

“The Dujail case is part of a chain of assassination operations against officials and I am one of the victims,” he said, laying the responsibility for the attempt at the feet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party.

“I am also a victim of the criminal acts of a party which is now an official party in the government,” he said. “I want them tried for their criminal acts like the assassination attempt in the Mustansiriyah university.”

In 1980, Aziz was attacked by militants who tossed grenades at him at the university in Baghdad.

“The president of the state in any country, if faced with an assassination attempt, should take procedures to punish those who conduct and help this operation,” he said.

Aziz said he was testifying on the behalf of not just Saddam, but also former head of intelligence Barzan al-Tikriti and former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan.

“Barzan was my friend. If he had tortured anybody, he would have told me,” Aziz said.

Saddam then spoke out in defence of Barzan and Ramadan, saying they had nothing to do with the crackdown on Dujail.

“I just let this issue work in the usual way and assigned the security department, not the intelligence who had other work to do,” Saddam said.
“I didn’t assign Ramadan to anything in this case.”

Saddam and his seven co-defendants face charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and torture, and could face execution by hanging if found guilty.

Aziz’s testimony was followed by that of Abdel Hamid Mahmud, Saddam’s feared director of personal security and constant companion, who described the attack on Saddam.

He explained how the conspirators used the traditional custom of sacrificing a sheep in Saddam’s honour to mark his car for the assassins with bloody hand prints.

“The day afterwards, the protection force office called and he’d found a warehouse full of heavy weapons and a radio set capable of contacting people outside Iraq, obviously Iran, who was involved in the attack,” Mahmud said.

He also attempted to absolve Barzan from guilt by explaining that the intelligence service would not have been involved in a domestic affair. “The local security service speciality is inside Iraq, the intelligence service operates outside Iraq, so Dujail is the speciality of local security because it happened in Iraq and involved Iraqi people.”

The trial is currently in the defence phase, featuring testimony on the behalf of the accused, with last week involving witnesses for the little-known Ba’athist officials from Dujail.

The trial, which opened on October 19, has been marred by repeated tirades from Saddam and other defendants, the murder of two defence lawyers and the January resignation of the first chief judge.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mussawi told Agence France-Presse the defence testimony could take a few weeks, as nearly 60 witnesses are lined up to testify in the courtroom in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.

Once defence testimony is complete, defence lawyers will give their closing statements, followed by defendants’ final statements, which will mark the end of the trial.

The proceedings could conclude by the end of June, a United States official close to the court said last week, with a verdict coming as early as July.

International human rights advocates say the trial is being conducted well below international legal standards.—AFP

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