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First Hussein trial set for next month

Defense seeks more time; US forces kill seven insurgents

BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi government yesterday set a date of Oct. 19 for the start of the trial that could end with the execution of Saddam Hussein, but the former dictator's defense team complained it will not have enough time to prepare for the proceedings.

Also yesterday, US troops killed seven insurgents in Tal Afar, including six who fired at the Americans from a mosque, the US command said. Iraqi officers said well-armed insurgents controlled the center of Tal Afar and their ranks included fighters from Yemen, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries.

A legal adviser to Hussein's family, Abdel-Haq Alani, said that starting the trial next month would ''undercut the defense capability to review the case."

He was reacting to the announcement by the chief government spokesman, Laith Kubba, that Hussein and seven former associates would be tried on Oct. 19 in the 1982 massacre of 143 Shi'ite Muslims in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad.

The announcement confirmed reports that the first trial of Hussein would begin just days after the national referendum on Iraq's constitution, which is scheduled to be held Oct. 15.

Trying Hussein so soon after the referendum could further increase sectarian tensions among his fellow Sunni Muslims, many of whom oppose the draft charter.

If convicted, Hussein and the others could receive the death penalty.

Alani said the defense had received no official notice about the date but complained that if Oct. 19 were the start, it would not leave enough time to prepare.

''How can one review thousands and thousands of pages in just a matter of a few days?" he said by telephone from London. ''This court has been deliberating with the evidence for the past year, but it has been keeping it away from the defense, which is not fair."

Hussein's lawyer in Iraq had no immediate reaction.

The other defendants include Barazan Ibrahim, the ousted regime's intelligence chief and Hussein's half brother; and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. The others are lesser figures who had worked in the intelligence services or ruling Baath Party.

Rather than lump all charges against the former dictator into one mammoth, time-consuming trial, Iraqi authorities are preparing a series of cases focusing on specific atrocities.

Iraq's government, dominated by Shi'ites and Kurds, is convinced that speedy trials will expose crimes of his regime and undercut support for him within the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

''This court will conduct itself according to international standards," Kubba said. ''We hope to rebuild national unity and rid ourselves of a dark page in Iraq's past and move on."

Pretrial investigations are underway into about a dozen cases, including the 1988 gassing of up to 5,000 Kurds in Halabja and the bloody 1991 suppression of a Shi'ite uprising in the south after a US-led coalition drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.

The Iraqi tribunal announced July 17 that it had filed charges against Hussein in the Dujail case. Iraqi law requires the court to announce the start date for a trial within 45 days of the filing of charges.

Under Iraqi law, the defendants will stand before the judge while he reads the charges against them. Defense lawyers will be given the opportunity to respond and ask for a postponement.

If the judge believes a delay is justified, he can grant an extension, usually 15 days. Further extensions can be requested.

The former US governor of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, abolished the death penalty soon after the 2003 US-led invasion. But the Iraqis reinstated capital punishment after sovereignty was reinstated a year later so they would have the option of executing Hussein if he were convicted of crimes committed during his three-decade regime.

Shi'ites and Kurds suffered the most under the regime because of their suspected ties to Iran during a 1980-1988 war. Both groups also rose up against Hussein in 1991. The Shi'ite uprising was crushed after the United States refused to intervene on their behalf, although it did provide protection to Kurds.

In a statement, the US command said soldiers from the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Carson, Colo., killed seven insurgents ''after receiving small arms fire during three separate incidents in Tal Afar." There were no American or Iraqi government casualties, the military said.

In other developments yesterday:

A roadside bomb exploded as a repair crew fixed a pipeline leak near Kirkuk, killing one technician and injuring another.

A pair of drive-by shootings in Baghdad killed four people.

A funeral was held in Baghdad yesterday for four family members killed last week while trying to find their relative, an Iraqi soldier.

Iraq's foreign minister said yesterday that Iraq will within weeks reopen its embassy in Kuwait for the first time since it closed after Hussein ordered the 1990 invasion of the tiny country.

Hoshyar Zebari's comments come amid a growing rapprochement between the two states.

''We reached the final agreement with the Kuwaiti government to resume our diplomatic activities and we will reopen our embassy within the few coming weeks," Zebari said in Baghdad.

Asked whether Kuwait would reopen its embassy in Baghdad in return, Zebari said this issue ''is left to the Kuwaiti government itself and its estimation about the situation in Iraq."

Relations between the nations were broken after the August 1990 invasion.

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