Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Saddam Hussein, defiant, appears in Baghdad court

AFP , BAGHDAD

A defiant and unrepentant Saddam Hussein appeared in court in Baghdad yesterday to hear a string of charges for which he could face the death penalty, in a landmark moment for the new Iraq.

A visibly tired Saddam defended his August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and refused to sign legal papers after seven charges were read against him, an official of the Iraqi Special Tribunal said.

Insisting he was still president of Iraq during the 30-minute hearing, the ousted dictator, speaking in a hoarse voice, questioned the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

"This is all theater. The real villain is Bush," said a thin-looking Saddam, referring to US President George W. Bush.

The 67-year-old former strongman also insulted Kuwait. "How could you defend those dogs?" he asked, only to be rebuked by the judge that "such language is not permitted" in a court of law.

The toppled dictator was trans-ported to the courtroom in an armored bus flanked by four Humvees and an ambulance after being flown there in a helicopter.

Upon arrival, he was led handcuffed and with a chain around his waist into the building by two Iraqi guards, while six more guards stood to attention at the door.

During the hearing, Saddam looked around and made hand gestures at the judge as charges were read out against him that included the invasion of Kuwait and the bloody suppression of an uprising by Iraq's Shiite majority in 1991.

"Kuwait is an Iraqi territory. It was not an invasion," Saddam said.

Before the hearing ended, Saddam was presented with a document to sign to acknowledge that he understood what was going on, understood the charges and that his rights had been read, but he refused to sign it.

Saddam's defense team yesterday again slammed as "illegal" the Iraqi Special Tribunal trying the deposed dictator.

Minutes after Saddam left the courtroom, his former presidential secretary Abed Hamid Mahmud was brought in.

Ten other top members of the former regime were due to follow.

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