BAGHDAD, Iraq – The trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein will start Oct. 19, just days after the country votes on a new constitution, a government spokesman said Sunday.
Saddam and several top aides, including his half-brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan Tikriti, and former vice president Taha Yasin Ramadan, are accused of massacring 143 people in a town in northeastern Iraq in 1982 in retaliation for an assassination attempt against the former strongman.
If the special tribunal convicts Saddam, government spokesman Laith Kubba said he expected the deposed leader to be sentenced to death.
While Saddam was hated in much of Iraq, he’s still embraced by some portions of the Sunni Muslim minority, which has been the principal supporter of Iraq’s insurgency. His public trial could further alienate that community.
Last week, the government carried out the first death sentences since the fall of Saddam’s regime, hanging three men convicted of murder. U.S. officials abolished the death sentence, notoriously imposed by Saddam on dissidents and military deserters, after the 2003 invasion. But it was restored by new Iraqi leaders who wanted the option of using it against Saddam.
Kubba said it would be up to the special tribunal trying Saddam to decide if the trial will be broadcast. But he said, “We want this trial to be transparent. This is a national event.”
Kubba said he hoped the trial would unify a country wracked by sectarian violence.
“You will see this court will do its work according to international standards,” he said. “I’m sure the court will be the best court in Iraq.”
Kubba also said he expected the final wording on the draft constitution to be completed today, three weeks after the document was supposed to be done.
Shiite and Kurdish negotiators reportedly are still trying to tweak the wording of the draft to win some acceptance from leaders of the disaffected Sunni sect, who’ve threatened to try to mount a campaign to defeat the document in an Oct. 15 referendum.
Kubba said even if that happens, “this is not a tragedy. It will only delay us for six months and we will start from scratch.”
The delays in completing a draft, however, are threatening Iraqi officials’ promise to print 5 million copies of the constitution to be distributed to every household in the country before the referendum.
The United Nations-funded project is expected to take about five weeks, meaning voters may have only a few days to digest the 40-page draft before going to the polls.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government, already under criticism for the lack of safety, electricity, clean water, fuel and other services, announced Sunday the latest measure to bring order to the chaos of daily life in Baghdad.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s office said that starting Tuesday, drivers in Baghdad with license plates ending in odd numbers would be allowed to drive only on odd-numbered calendar days, while cars with even-numbered license plates would be allowed on the roads only on even-numbered dates.
The plan is supposed to cut down on pollution, increase security and relieve the miserable traffic jams created by the increasing number of car owners and the routine roadblocks in the capital for military convoys and security reasons.