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Hussein urges Iraqis to unite

Says factions should fight US, allies

BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein, testifying yesterday for the first time in his trial, called on Iraqis to stop killing each other and instead fight US troops. The judge reprimanded him for making a rambling, political speech and ordered the television cameras switched off.

Hussein began his speech by declaring he was the elected president, touching off a shouting match with chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman.

''You used to be a head of state. You are a defendant now," Abdel-Rahman told him.

Hussein, dressed in a black suit and wearing large reading glasses, repeatedly brushed off the judge's demands that he address the charges against him, the killing of 148 Shi'ites and the imprisonment and torture of others during a crackdown in the 1980s.

Instead, he read from a prepared text, addressing the ''great Iraqi people" -- a phrase he often used in his presidential speeches -- and said he was ''pained" by the recent wave of Sunni-Shi'ite violence.

''Let the people unite and resist the invaders and their backers. Don't fight among yourselves," he said, praising the insurgency.

''In your resistance to the invasion by the Americans and Zionists and their allies, you were great. You were great in my eyes and you remain so. . . . It's only a matter of time until the sun rises and you'll be victorious," he said.

Abdel-Rahman shouted at him again and closed the session for 90 minutes, ordering journalists out of the room and the delayed broadcast cut while Hussein finished reading his speech.

The stormy exchanges were a stark contrast to the past few sessions, when each of Hussein's seven codefendants took the stand, one by one, and were questioned by the judge and prosecutor about the crackdown in the Shi'ite town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt on the then-Iraqi president.

Even Hussein's half-brother, former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, who has frequently caused an uproar in the court, submitted to more than three hours of questioning earlier yesterday. He denied any role in the crackdown, and as prosecutors presented a series of intelligence memos on the arrests allegedly bearing his signatures, he insisted each was a forgery.

Prosecutors will have another chance to try to question Hussein on the charges when the trial reconvenes April 5.

But in yesterday's session, Hussein sought to project the image of a man still in power addressing his people in troubled times, even as Abdel-Rahman repeatedly stabbed a button on his desk to shut off Hussein's microphone.

At one point, the judge screamed, ''Respect yourself!" Hussein shouted back: ''You respect yourself!"

''You are a defendant in a major criminal case, concerning the killing of innocents. You have to respond to this charge," Abdel-Rahman told him.

''What about those who are dying in Baghdad? Are they not innocents?" Hussein replied. ''I am talking to the Iraqi people."

In his speech, Hussein told Iraqis that ''of all religions and sects . . . I do not discriminate among you."

''What pains me most is what I heard recently about something that aims to harm our people," he said, referring to Shi'ite-Sunni violence that has rocked the country since the bombing of a major Shi'ite shrine in Samarra last month.

He blamed ''criminals" for the shrine bombing and the attacks on Sunni mosques that followed, and urged Iraqis to unite. ''What happened in the last days is bad," he said. ''You will live in darkness and rivers of blood for no reason."

''The bloodshed that they [the Americans] have caused to the Iraqi people only made them more intent and strong to evict the foreigners from their land and liberate their country," he said.

After Abdel-Rahman closed the session, Hussein finished reading his speech.

Former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, who is a member of Hussein's defense team, told CNN the speech explained the context of the time period in which the Dujail events took place, arguing the legality of the government actions while Iraq was at war with Iran.

But Clark said the judge ''threatened us with prosecution if we release what [Hussein] said."

When journalists returned to the court, Hussein was sitting alone in the defendants' pen. The chief prosecutor tried to question him, but he refused, demanding first to see a copy of an affidavit he made to investigators before the trial.

Abdel-Rahman ordered that he be given a copy and adjourned the trial until April 5.

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