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Hussein's trial shows Iraq's deep divides

Associated Press
Published January 26, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq - For some Iraqis it's justice at work. Others slam it as just another slap across their occupied nation's face. And to a few, it is pure entertainment.

Saddam Hussein's on-again, off-again trial has taken on an almost surreal character, and the range of public reaction highlights Iraq's deep divides.

The latest hiccup in a trial already marred by the killings of defense lawyers and courtroom brawls was Tuesday's failure to resume hearings after a one-month break. Disputes over replacements for the top two judges and absent witnesses were cited as the reasons the proceedings had to be put off until Sunday.

Many Iraqis have reacted predictably to the trial, which opened Oct. 19 but has had only seven sessions. Shiite Muslims and Kurds, severely oppressed during Hussein's reign, praised the court or demanded a swifter form of justice - execution.

"I am sure that God's will is all powerful and Saddam will get his punishment despite all these delays," said Shiite shop owner Najim Bilal al-Khafaji, 29, in the southern town of Najaf.

Another Najaf native, 37-year-old Shiite Abid Zain, described the trial as fair and urged Iraqis to be patient.

"Although Saddam and his regime were the toughest criminals in history, they are tried in such a democratic way that makes the people of the world respect the Iraqi people more than before," Zain said.

In Tikrit, Hussein's hometown north of Baghdad, die-hard supporters criticized the tribunal as a U.S.-orchestrated farce.

But in a sign the country may slowly be leaving behind three decades of war, police-state rule and sanctions, some Iraqis from Hussein's Sunni support-base praised the trial as necessary and just.

Even some Shiites questioned the ability of a U.S.-orchestrated court to fairly try a man many blame for directing mass killing of Shiites. Such cases include the 1982 slaughter of more than 140 Shiites in the northern city of Dujail, the focus of the current case against Hussein and his seven co-defendants.

Outside Iraq, political science professor Abdul Khaleq Abdullah in the United Arab Emirates said the chaotic atmosphere surrounding the trial is a positive sign of a maturing Iraqi society.

"They (Iraqi authorities) are going through some experimentation. You have to understand that this is not going to be easy, to go public and confront a dictator," he said. "There is procedure and they have to learn a few things. People should be a little sympathetic."

But to many Iraqis, the trial rates low in importance when compared with the difficulties posed by roadside bombs, kidnappings, sectarian slayings and the foreign military occupation.

[Last modified January 26, 2006, 01:03:03]

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