The court trying Saddam Hussein canceled the resumption of his trial yesterday, delaying the session for five days. The postponement came amid a squabble among judges over a last-minute shakeup in the court, according to judges.
The delay was the latest sign of disarray in the trial of the ousted Iraqi leader and his former regime officials. It came a day after one member of the five-judge panel was ousted and a new chief judge was appointed.
After hours of waiting for the session to begin, court official Raid Juhi told journalists that the court had decided to postpone the hearing until Sunday.
He said the delay was because "some of the witnesses who were due to appear today have been unable to attend because some of them were performing the pilgrimage" to Saudi Arabia, which ended a week ago. Juhi refused to take any questions.
But two judges said the members of the panel hearing the case were squabbling over the appointment of the new chief judge, Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman.
Some judges opposed the appointment, while others supported him, one of the two judges said. He said the arguments were still going on as the postponement of the session was announced.
The other appeared to complain about outside interference in the court. When asked what the problem was, he replied, "Matters are not in our hands."
It appeared some members were trying to bring back the former chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, or the another jurist who was removed from the panel, Saeed al-Hammash.
The two judges who spoke to reporters were members of the Special Tribunal trying the ousted Iraqi leader, though not necessarily sitting on the panel hearing the current case. They both spoke on condition of anonymity since court rules bar most judges from being named.
The first chief judge, Amin, a Kurd, submitted his resignation Jan. 15 after complaints by politicians and officials that he failed to maintain control of the proceedings.
Initially, court officials said Amin would be replaced by his deputy, al-Hammash, a Shiite. However, the government commission responsible for purging members of Saddam's Baath Party complained last week that al-Hammash should not serve as chief judge because of his one-time membership in the former ruling party.
Al-Hammash was transferred off the case entirely, though court official Raid Juhi insisted the move was not connected to the Baath allegation.
The man finally appointed to stand as chief judge -- Abdel-Rahman, a Kurd -- was born in Halabja, the town where Saddam's forces allegedly launched a poison gas attack in 1988 that killed 5,000 Kurds. Some relatives of Abdel-Rahman were among the dead, according to his family.
Saddam is expected to eventually go on trial for the Halabja deaths. But the current trial, which began Oct. 19 and was holding its eighth session yesterday, is for the killings of about 140 Shiites in a crackdown that followed a failed assassination attempt in 1982 against the former ruler in Dujail, 80km north of Baghdad.
Saddam and seven co-defendants could face the death penalty if convicted in the Dujail case.