Saddam Hussein, once the most feared and powerful dictator in the Arab world, will on Wednesday stand trial in a Baghdad courtroom over a 1982 massacre that could see him sentenced to death.
While Saddam has been accused of a litany of human rights abuses during his 24-year rule, this trial is limited to the murder of 143 Shiites that took place in the village of Dujail as a reprisal after an attack on his convoy.
He will stand before five judges at the Iraqi special tribunal along with three former top lieutenants and four local Baath party officials. All could face the death penalty if found guilty.
It marks the latest stage in the fall of Saddam from all-powerful leader to convict after US forces found his bedraggled and exhausted figure hiding in a spider hole in the north of the country on Dec. 13, 2003.
The trial will take place amid the tightest security measures -- with the defendants likely to be encased behind bullet-proof glass -- and the tribunal has only allowed a minimum of information to filter out.
For security reasons the names of the judges have not been disclosed and neither has the location of the courtroom -- although in all probability it will be in the heavily fortified Green Zone in the center of Baghdad.
According to US officials, the Iraqi judges have received extensive training in the conduct of war crimes and crimes against humanity trials from international experts, including mock proceedings organized in Britain.
It still remains unclear whether the proceedings will be shown on television, with the authorities worried Saddam should not be allowed to turn the trial into a personal platform with long tirades against the court.
However the chief spokesman of the court, Raed al-Juhi, has said he "hopes" the trial will be televised and stated that the process will be public unless the court decides to hold the hearings behind closed doors.
Amid the anticipation of Saddam's first appearance before the court, the initial stages could prove to be something of an anti-climax with procedural matters to be dealt with and Saddam's defense calling for a delay.
"Things that could take place on the first day are the court informing the defense council what is expected of them, hearing from the defendants that they are present, that they are represented by counsel and the reading of the criminal violations that the defendants are accused of," according to a source close to the court.
Saddam and the seven others who are to be tried "might just give their names" without facing further questions, the source added, without ruling out the possibility that the trial could be adjourned for several weeks at the request of the defense.
The former president's Iraqi lawyer Khalil Dulaimi has already said he will ask for a delay on the opening day, claiming the defense has not been given full access to Saddam himself or full details of the charges against him.
It will be impossible to avoid comparisons with the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, held at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, established by the UN, in the Hague.
In contrast to Saddam, Milosevic faces more than 60 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the 1990s Balkan wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo and separate charges of genocide for the war in Bosnia.