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Saddam admits "razing" farms

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, March 1 (Reuters) Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein admitted today he had ordered the trial of Muslim Shi'ites who were executed in the 1980s and said he had approved the ''razing'' of their farms.

Saddam made the extraordinary confessions during his second day in court this week, where prosecutors read out documents, showed satellite images and played audio tapes in an attempt to link Saddam to the execution of 148 Shi'ites after a 1982 assassination attempt on his life in Dujail.

''I referred them to the revolutionary court according to the law. Awad was implementing the law, he had a right to convict and acquit,'' Saddam said, referring to his co-accused Awad al- Bandar, the former chief of the Revolutionary Court.

''I razed them ... we specified the farmland of those who were convicted and I signed,'' Saddam told the court trying him for crimes against humanity.

''It's the right of the state to re-own or compensate. So where is the crime?'' Saddam said he ordered the razing of the farms because there had been an attempt on his life as his motorcade drove through the town during a visit in July 1982.

Describing how gunmen fired machine guns on his vehicle, he said: ''I saw the bullets with my own eyes, I was sitting on the right side.'' The trial, which began in October last year, was adjourned until March 12.

Saddam was mostly subdued as chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi laid out what he said was evidence linking Saddam to the Dujail case.

Following a week of sectarian violence that has killed hundreds and pitched Iraq toward civil war, Saddam used an opportunity to address the court to recall the unity of Iraqis in the war he waged against Iran in the 1980s.

A day after prosecutors presented what they said was a death warrant signed by Saddam for the 148 Shi'ites, Moussawi showed more papers today -- this time, he said, showing the condemned men's trial had been a farce.

Moussawi also showed aerial pictures of fields laid waste around Dujail and played an audio tape of Saddam in discussion with a Baath party official.

In previous proceedings, the judge has heard testimony from witnesses recounting how they were tortured by Saddam's aides.

If convicted, Saddam, 68, could face death by hanging.

Saddam, who challenged the authenticity of the documents, complained about the prosecutor's behaviour and the judge's disciplining of his half-brother and co-accused, Barzan al- Tikriti.

UNITY The former leader's trial has been overshadowed by fears that Iraq's sectarian tensions are out of control, but Saddam, who has dominated court proceedings in the past with lengthy tirades against the U.S.-backed tribunal, spoke of unity.

''Saddam didn't win in 1988 but the Iraqi people won ... Arab and Kurds and all other religions and sects,'' said Saddam, who appeared more subdued than in previous rowdy appearances.

When chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman politely asked Saddam to finish, Saddam said:'' Give me some time, I have been your president for 35 years. I am still the president of Iraq according to the constitution.'' Saddam's calls for Iraqi unity come a week after suspected al Qaeda militants bombed a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, sparking reprisal killings against minority Sunnis and stalling US- backed efforts to forge a government of national unity that would include Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds.

The trial has been marred by the killing of two defence lawyers, the resignation of the previous judge and concerns by international human rights groups who say violence in Iraq makes a fair trial impossible.

REUTERS SRS PM2113

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