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Judge tells Saddam defence to wrap up case

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, June 13 (Reuters) The chief judge in Saddam Hussein's trial on crimes against humanity today said it would be the last day to hear defence witnesses, setting the stage for final arguments before the court reaches a verdict.

''This session will be the last for witnesses to be heard,'' chief Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman told the court, which opened the trial against Saddam and seven co-accused in October.

Once witnesses finish testifying, the prosecution and defence teams are expected to present their closing statements, after which the five-judge panel would adjourn to consider a verdict, an official close to the court said.

Defence lawyers, who have questioned the legality of the US-backed Iraqi court and have accused the judge of rushing the case, called more witnesses today, including Saddam's half brother Sabawi al-Tikriti.

Earlier, Rahman barred another half-brother of Saddam, co- accused Barzan al-Tikriti, from attending the session one day after guards threw him out from the heavily-fortified courtroom in Baghdad as he screamed: ''This is a dictatorship.'' ''The court decided to continue keeping defendant Barzan away for his repeated violation of the order of the court,'' Rahman said.

If found guilty, Saddam and the seven others could face death by hanging for their roles in a crackdown that led to the killing of 148 Shi'ite men and boys after an assassination attempt against Saddam in the village of Dujail in 1982.

But any execution of Saddam could be delayed by appeals and possibly up to a dozen other trials for war crimes and genocide.

Among Today's witnesses, which also included three of Saddam's former bodyguards, was Sabawi, a former intelligence chief who was number 36 on the US military's list of the 55 most-wanted people in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

Rahman, a stern Kurd who has tried to keep defendants from launching tirades, warned Sabawi to stick to the Dujail case.

''We don't want political speeches. Stick to your testimony,'' Rahman said wagging his finger at Sabawi.

''How come you know that I am going to give a political speech?'' Sabawi asked sarcastically.

''I can tell by the way you are sitting,'' the judge replied.

Sabawi, who was captured in February 2005, denied that another defendant, former vice president Taha Ramadan, was head of a committee that ordered the razing of orchards in reprisal for the Dujail assassination attempt on Saddam.

Following a heated exchange with Ramadan's lawyer, Rahman accused the lawyer of provoking the witness to come up with answers which are ''insulting to the Iraqi people'' and ordered proceedings to briefly continue in closed session.

Reuters SHB GC2058

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