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Saddam's co-accused deny involvement in killings of 148

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, Mar 12 (Reuters) Three of Saddam Hussein's co- accused denied involvement today in the killing of 148 Shi'ites in the 1980s as they took the stand to defend themselves against charges which carry the death penalty.

It was the first hearing since March 1, when Saddam acknowledged ordering trials that led to the execution of the 148 men after an attempt on his life in the Shi'ite town of Dujail in 1982.

The trial resumed as a series of blasts rocked Baghdad, killing at least 50 people. Similar violence blamed on Sunni insurgents greeted previous resumptions of the trial, which began last October but has been marred by numerous delays.

Saddam was not in court as he waited his turn to testify. He is charged with seven others -- former top aides and minor officials of his Baath party -- for crimes against humanity over the Dujail killings. If convicted, they may be hanged.

Yet the tone of much of the testimony was in the realm of the trivial, given the gravity of the crimes alleged.

Mizhir Abdullah Kathim Ruwaid, a Baath official employed in Dujail's postal and communications department, said he had been falsely implicated by a woman who bore him a grudge for cutting off her telephone after she failed to pay her bill.

He also used a tale of misplaced spectacles to distance himself from a statement he signed saying he had received orders from Saddam's half-brother and intelligence chief, Barzan al- Tikriti, to arrest the men.

''I didn't say that. I might as well have been signing a blank paper because I didn't have my glasses when Judge (Raed) Jouhi met me,'' he testified.

Appearing nervous and wearing an Arab headdress, he repeatedly invoked God as he protested his innocence.

The prosecution has previously presented a letter purportedly signed by Ruwaid and addressed to the interior minister at the time in which he implicated some Dujaili families in the assassination attempt.

MINOR ROLES Ruwaid and three other minor Baath party officials, including his father, are only implicated in the Dujail killings, unlike Saddam who still faces trial on other charges.

Ali Dayi Ali, another Baath party official said he, too, had not read the statement he signed in front of Jouhi, the investigating magistrate, and denied any involvement.

Abdullah Kathim Ruwaid, father of Mizhir Ruwaid, a former paramilitary commander and Baath official who gave his age as 80, denied informing on some of the 148 men.

Each of the defendants will get the opportunity to rebut the charges against them in the next few days and will not appear in court until it is their turn to testify. It was not clear when Saddam was scheduled to appear.

Hearings are due to last several days this week followed by a probable adjournment of several weeks for the court to prepare more specific charge sheets. The court will resume on Monday.

In the March 1 session, Saddam acknowledged giving orders that led to the executions and razing the farms around Dujail. But he insisted he had acted within the law as Iraq's president.

Reuters PR DB2356

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