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Saddam's Signature Takes Center Stage at Trial


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants were back in court today. It was another session of their months-long trial. At the same time, another scheduled event in Baghdad has been postponed. Iraq's parliament was supposed to meet today to try to resolve a leadership crisis and that didn't happen. The session was called off yesterday because negotiations remain stalled.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay has been covering the story in Baghdad. And, Jamie, we've been hearing the same story about stalled negotiations for months now. Are they any closer to reaching some kind of unity government?

JAMIE TARABAY: Well, frankly, no. There's still no agreement on the senior post. The winning Shiite alliance is said to be considering people other than Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who's the current candidate for prime minister. He still refuses to step aside, despite the pressure from practically everyone to do so. All the factions need to work out who's going to be the president and who are going to be the deputies. And they want to do this before they actually meet in parliament.

There's not only disagreement between the factions, there's in-fighting within the parties themselves over who'll get the positions. I mean, we hear that there's something like five different Sunnis from the same party who all want to be deputy president. And two Shiites are battling it out over the other deputy presidency. One of the main reasons it's taking so long and the in- fighting has become so bitter is because this government is going to be in charge for four years and nobody wants to be left out of that.

INSKEEP: At the same time though, Jamie, is it fair to say that every day that goes by without some kind of political agreement, more people get killed?

TARABAY: Absolutely. I mean, the violence that we're seeing is getting more and more sectarian every single day. Yesterday 10 people were killed in a car bomb near a Shiite mosque in Mahmoudia, south of Baghdad. And three others were killed in a bus explosion in a Shiite area of eastern Baghdad. And we only learned, moments ago, that the brother of a Sunni politician who was kidnapped three weeks ago, has turned up dead at the Baghdad morgue. And last night, there was a very intense firefight that lasted for four hours in the mainly Sunni area called Avamia(ph) here in Baghdad.

And there are conflicting reports on what happened, depending on who you speak to. The Sunni residents, they blame Iraqi commanders who are connected to the Shiite-run Interior Ministry for coming in and storming the area; and the Interior Ministry says the local police station was attacked by Sunni insurgents. People are taking sides here and the Shiites feel they can rely on the Interior Ministry and the police, which is widely seen as sectarian and Shiite, and the Sunnis now depend on the U.S. forces and the Iraqi army because the Iraqi army is seen as more balanced. And this will only continue until the politicians come through with a government.

INSKEEP: We're talking to NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. And, Jamie, all these events, would seem to be overshadowing something that the U.S. and its allies would rather the focus be on at this moment: the continuation of Saddam Hussein's trial. What kind of evidence is coming out there?

TARABAY: Well, today the court heard a report from criminal experts saying that signatures on some of the documents connecting Saddam and his co-defendants to the death of 148 Shiite men from the village of Dujail were real. One of the documents they said Saddam signed approved rewards for intelligence agents involved in the crackdown against the villagers in Dujail. Saddam and the seven others are on trial for the alleged massacre of the men after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam when he visited the village in 1982.

Now Saddam and his half brother, Barzan al-Takriti, who's also on trial, have previously refused to give the tribunal samples of their handwriting. And Saddam has refused to say either way whether he signed the papers or not. And some of the other defendants have come out and said the signatures are fake. Today, one of Saddam's lawyers asked the court to appoint international experts. They say that the people who were involved in today's report were members of the Interior Ministry and they can't be neutral. And it's funny, at one point, he said, you know, the experts could be from any country except Iran. And Saddam at that point interjected and said, well, he didn't want anyone from Israel either.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

TARABAY: You know, the experts are still checking other documents. Their work isn't finished. And the court's been adjourned until Wednesday.

INSKEEP: Okay, one more piece of evidence, one more dispute. Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad, thanks very much.

TARABAY: You're welcome. 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.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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