Saddam-era judge says ordered 148 executions

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BAGHDAD, Mar 13 (Reuters) The judge who oversaw the trial of 148 Shi'ite men accused of plotting to assassinate Saddam Hussein in 1982 said in court today he had personally issued a death warrant for them and insisted it was legal.

''They attacked the president of the republic and they confessed,'' Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, said in testimony before the judges trying him, Saddam and six others for crimes against humanity.

The killing of the 148 men from the Shi'ite town of Dujail is at the heart of the case. Saddam said on March 1 that he had ordered the trial under Bandar which led to the executions and said this had been an entirely legitimate procedure.

He also said farms had been razed around the town in reprisal.

Bandar, the first of the four senior defendants to give testimony in his own defence, followed that argument, accusing the dead men of being part of a plot by the Iranian-backed Dawa party to kill Saddam during Iraq's war with Iran.

''It was provoked by Iran. They were members of Dawa. The leadership of Dawa was in Iran,'' Bandar said.

The present leader of Dawa, a Shi'ite Islamist party, is Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose government has pressed for the Dujail trial to move forward rapidly.

''The target was the head of state and we were in a state of war with Iran,'' Bandar said. ''He (Saddam) was the commander of the armed forces.

''The court took two weeks. The 148 men had confessed. It is all in the files.'' In a phase of the trial that began yesterday, four local Baath party officials from Dujail had already made their appearances -- three of them contesting sworn statements the prosecution said they had made in pre-trial proceedings.

REUTERS SB PM1548

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