Saddam Protests New Judge; News Anchor Wounded

Saddam Hussein and his lawyers are protesting the new chief judge assigned to his trial. Alex Chadwick talks with New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins about the status of war crimes trial against Hussein and his associates. They also discuss the wounds sustained by ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt after their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Madeleine Brand is not here today. I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, reporter Mike Pesca recalls the dazzling and dismal details of the Enron story, as the trial begins.

First, the lead: Iraq. The news that ABC anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were badly wounded yesterday highlighted another violent weekend. The two are undergoing treatment in Germany now. A doctor there describes their conditions as very serious.

And the trial of Saddam Hussein is abated until Wednesday, after more courtroom theatrics. And weeks after the historic national elections, there's still no word on progress in the formation of a unity government.

Joining us from Baghdad is New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins. Dexter, welcome back to the program. Let's just begin, what do you hear about the formation of the government? That must be, one would think, the most pressing matter there.

Mr. DEXTER FILKINS (Reporter, New York Times): It is a pressing matter, but it's probably not going to be settled for many weeks. And everybody, more or less, has accepted that. And so, there's just a lot of talking and a lot of negotiations going on. And my guess, you know, I mean, we're in January, late January, I think, we're probably a couple of months away.

CHADWICK: Well, how is the ongoing government doing in the face of this? I mean, do they claim an authority? Is anyone suggesting they don't have an authority?

Mr. FILKINS: No, they don't. You know, really, if you're here in Baghdad, which is such a chaotic and anarhic place, most of the senior leaders in the Iraqi government are inside the Green Zone, which, you know, is a big fortified and protested area.

It's not really the real Iraq. But they're inside there. They're protected. They're safe. But they don't really have a lot of impact out here.

CHADWICK: There has been some drama at the Saddam Hussein trial. Today, there's word that the defense team is going to boycott the trial when it does resume on Wednesday. What's going on there?

Mr. FILKINS: Well, it was a pretty remarkable day yesterday. If you remember, some of the earlier court appearances by Saddam Hussein and some of his cohorts, some of the senior guys in Saddam Hussein's government, every time they came into court, they made speeches, they disrupted the proceedings, they heckled people, they tried to intimidate people.

And the original judge, the judge who had the case, more or less let it happen. And he spoke to Saddam Hussein with great respect, which troubled a lot of Iraqis who watched it on television, and didn't seem able to control his courtroom. It was becoming kind of a standstill.

This new judge, the new judge who came in yesterday, Raouf Abdul Rahman, and he controlled his courtroom. And he told Saddam Hussein, sit down and shut up. He ordered Saddam and two other senior Baath party guys be taken out of the courtroom because they wouldn't shut up.

And he was very, very firm with them. And that's when the defense team walked out. I think what you saw, finally, was that there was a judge here who could get control of the proceedings. And today, for example, a lot of Iraqis were talking about just that, and look at that. The judge came in and he showed Saddam Hussein the disrespect that he deserved, and he stopped cow-towing to them.

CHADWICK: Finally, Dexter, ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and the cameraman Doug Vogt injured yesterday by this roadside bomb, what are people saying about that incident, and, indeed, just the possibility for reporters to travel even in convoys, never mind soldiers travelling in the convoys?

Mr. FILKINS: You know, you've got to step back for a moment. This was a big event, and Mr. Woodruff is a famous and well-known guy. But there's been 2,200 American soldiers killed here, and more than 10,000 wounded. There's been 61 journalists here who have been killed. This is a terribly violent and unpredictable place.

And the area where Mr. Woodruff and Mr. Vogt were yesterday is particularly bad. It's north of Baghdad. It's right in the middle of the city triangle. And it's actually pretty close to one of the main bases were the Iraqi security forces are being trained.

They went into the heart of it when they were hit. But everybody who works here knows how dangerous this place is. And it's really, really hard, if not impossible, to protect yourself in every way. I mean, when you go out, whether it's in a convoy or with the Army, you're in grave danger.

CHADWICK: Dexter Filkins, reporting from Baghdad for the New York Times. Dexter, thank you.

Mr. FILKINS: Thank you very much.

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