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Former Hussein regime members may testify

Deposed ruler's trial to resume

BAGHDAD -- Members of Saddam Hussein's toppled regime, including some in custody, may testify this week when the trial resumes for the former Iraq president and seven codefendants charged in a 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shi'ite Muslims, a US official said yesterday.

Hussein and the other defendants are scheduled to return to court tomorrow for the resumption of the trial, which began Oct. 19. Hussein and the others face charges of involvement in the massacre in Dujail, north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt against Hussein.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the trial's proceedings, said the next session was expected to last three days and to see former members of the Ba'athist regime called as witnesses.

No details were given on which witnesses would be called during this next stage, which could continue into the following week and end in May, said the official, who is close to the Iraqi High Tribunal trying Hussein.

Hussein has pleaded not guilty to allegations of murder, torture, forced expulsions, and illegal detentions at the opening session. A conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.

Meanwhile, a team of Hussein's lawyers arrived in Iraq from Jordan yesterday and were planning to meet the deposed president in jail before the trial resumed, a spokesman for the attorneys said. The team included former US attorney general Ramsey Clark and Washington-based lawyer Curtis Doebbler.

The Dujail case is among about a dozen pending against Hussein, and the US official said it could take years to deal with them all. Other cases concern atrocities such as the 1988 gassing of Kurds in Halabja, the killing of members of political and religious parties, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and the suppression of 1991 uprisings by Kurds and Shi'ites.

The trial is complicated by the Jan. 15 resignation of chief judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who said he intended to step down amid complaints of government criticism in the trial process.

During televised court sessions, Hussein has railed at Amin, refused to show up at one session, alleged that he was tortured, and openly prayed in court when the judge would not allow a recess.

The US official said efforts are ongoing to try to persuade Amin to stay on in the post. Iraqi authorities have not yet accepted the judge's resignation, but his deputy, Saeed al-Hammash, is being groomed as an interim replacement if Amin does not show up tomorrow.

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