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Hussein judges delay verdict

Concerns build of worse violence

BAGHDAD -- Judges postponed their verdict in Saddam Hussein's trial yesterday, a long-awaited decision that once held out the hope of healing Iraq's wounds but now threatens to spark even more sectarian violence.

The verdict had been expected Oct. 16 but was delayed until at least the end of the month while judges take extra time to review the evidence and make sure their case is airtight.

But no matter how well crafted, the verdict could worsen violence that is claiming dozens of lives daily. A death sentence for the former leader could enrage his Sunni Muslim supporters, while anything less is sure to infuriate Shi'ites who were oppressed under Hussein's regime.

That dilemma is a far cry from the hopes of many US and Iraqi officials when the war crimes trial began nearly a year ago. They touted the tribunal as a way to help heal Iraq's divisions by exposing atrocities during Hussein's regime, establishing justice, and opening the door for reconciliation.

In the past year, however, Shi'ite-Sunni divisions have grown, with thousands killed by Sunni insurgents and death squads from both Islamic sects.

After nine months of often stormy court sessions, many Sunnis -- who are a minority in Iraq but were dominant under Hussein -- see the tribunal as a show trial by the new Shi'ite leadership to take revenge on the ousted president.

Meanwhile, Shi'ites have made clear they will only accept execution for the leader whose regime persecuted their majority community and the Kurds. ``Anything less than a death sentence will be a neglect of justice," Hassan al-Suneid, a Shi'ite lawmaker. ``I think it could be a disaster."

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