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Saddam Admits to Ordering Trial of Villagers

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

In court in Baghdad today, an admission from Saddam Hussein, but not an admission of murder. The former Iraqi leader is charged with ordering the killing of 148 Shiite villagers after a failed attempt on his life in 1982. Today, Saddam told the court he destroyed the villagers' farmland as punishment, and referred the men to a court which ordered their execution. Saddam said that execution was justified.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Document after document placed on an overhead projector provided a paper trail prosecutors hope will convince judges Saddam and his seven co-defendants are guilty. Letters, lists, records of families who were taken from Dujail, those who were imprisoned, those interrogated, and those who died in custody.

At one point prosecutors played a recorded telephone conversation between Saddam and the Bath party official from 1991, during the crackdown on the Shiite uprising in the south after the first Gulf War.

Mr. SADDAM HUSSEIN (Former Iraqi president): (Speaking foreign language)

TARABAY: They're discussing the stirring palm groves and farmland in Basra, and the official says he's clearing the land there in the same way Saddam did in Dujail. Saddam didn't deny the charge.

Mr. HUSSEIN: (Through translator) I destroyed it. Destroying does not mean that I drove the bulldozer. It was a decree issued from the revolutionary council. I signed the degree.

TARABAY: Saddam also acknowledged he referred 148 men and boys from Dujail to the Revolutionary Court and they were all eventually executed. Prosecutors are attempting to prove that the men didn't receive proper trials.

Mr. HUSSEIN: (Speaking foreign language)

TARABAY: When he was allowed to address the court, Saddam had a question. "Where's the crime? Is referring a defendant who opened fire at a head of state, no matter his name, a crime?" he asked. He told the court to leave his co-defendants out of it, that he'd bear responsibility for his decisions at the time.

The trial is adjourned until March 12th. The sudden improvement in the proceedings, including subdued defendants and stronger evidence, may bolster its credibility in the eyes of the Iraqi people. But most have more pressing problems.

(Soundbite of explosions and gunfire)

Not far from the courtroom, in the fortified green zone, explosions again rocked Baghdad. Car bombs killed at least 26 people today and wounded dozens more. One of the blasts hit Tsasere (ph) Square, where Iraqi's line the sidewalks to sell secondhand clothes.

Halid Abu Abdallah (ph) staggered away from the scene, his clothes bloody from carrying the dead and the wounded. He had to focus hard to find the words to speak.

Mr. ABDALLAH (Baghdad resident): (Through translator) These people, selling clothes, what good comes of killing them? Does this killer have a name? No. He targets innocent people trying to live. He's a terrorist, a criminal, he doesn't know God.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language) (Sobbing)

TARABAY: Nearby, (unintelligible) began to cry when she spotted the patch of blood on the ground. The plump woman had raced across the street when the explosion ripped through the square.

Unidentified Woman: (Through translator) The police didn't let me come in. These people are my people, from my neighborhood. May God have revenge for all the people who have died. These people have families.

TARABAY: A man cleans a mess outside his shop before closing and leaving for the day. Another pulls broken teacups and glasses from his car to throw away, and nearby a CD seller stayed open, playing recordings of the Holy Koran.

(Soundbite of music)

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.
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