Saddam Trial Resumes; Iraqis Distracted by Unrest

Saddam Hussein is back in court, but Iraqis are increasingly disinterested in the proceedings. Most are focused on escalating sectarian violence and growing fears that the country is on the brink of civil war.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. And we're going to start off this hour in Iraq. As a string of bombings hit Baghdad, the trial of Saddam Hussein resumed today. There were more delaying tactics on the part of the defense team, and then Saddam's lawyers staged a walkout. A few weeks ago, that would've caused a stir in Iraq. But with the ongoing violence and fears of an outright civil war, Iraqis say they're simply not that interested anymore.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

When Saddam first appeared in the dock last October, hairdresser Amani Abdullah (ph) couldn't tear herself away from the television. Like millions of other Iraqis, the 28-year-old was fascinated by the sight of the former president, flecks of white in his clipped beard and wearing a gray suit, looking in turns bemused or indignant at the proceedings against him. But as the trial became wrapped in drama and delay, Abdullah says she stopped watching.

Ms. AMANI ABDULLAH (Iraqi citizen): (Through translator) I am not in the mood for it any more, because it's turned into a game. You don't feel like it's a proper trial when you see Saddam and his brother, Barzan, stand up and defy the court, acting like they're still in charge.

TARABAY: It's been the name of Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother, that's come up in witness testimony more than any of the other defendants. And the combative Barzan has provided much of the entertainment of the trial, challenging witnesses, goading security guards and even turning up at one session in his pajamas. To Zyad (ph), an unemployed man who would give only his first name, the whole thing is nothing more than a joke.

ZYAD (Iraqi citizen): (Through translator) Everyone says the same. When we get together, we all say the same thing, that we're watching it to have a laugh. It's a farce.

TARABAY: There's little else to laugh about. Violence continues to rack the country on an even greater scale since last Wednesday's attack on a sacred Shiite shrine. Hundreds of people have been killed in reprisal strikes, and many Iraqis fear outright civil war. This morning, at least 30 people were killed in three separate explosions. And later in the day more than a dozen died in a blast at a Shiite mosque. Against this backdrop, retired lawyer Muhammad al-Baqdadi (ph) sees no humor in the Saddam trial.

Mr. MUHAMMAD AL-BAQDADI (Iraqi citizen): (Through translator) It is not a comedy. It is a waste of time. They've taken the testimonies of witnesses, and his crimes are clear, so there's no need for all of these delays. They should execute him immediately.

TARABAY: It's ironic that Iraqis seem to be losing interest just when the case against Saddam seems to be solidifying.

(Soundbite of Saddam Hussein trial)

TARABAY: During today's court session, prosecutors produced a document they said was an order to execute 148 Shiite men from the village of Dijail in 1982. They said the presidential order was signed by Saddam. If it's genuine, it'll be the first piece of real evidence linking Saddam to the crime he stands charged with, something that's eluded prosecutors so far.

(Soundbite of Saddam Hussein trial)

TARABAY: After court adjourned, the prosecutor told the press conference more documentary evidence would be presented soon. Prosecutor General Jaafar al-Musawi couldn't guarantee that the new evidence would convict Saddam beyond any doubt. He says that's up to the court.

Standing outside a library in Karada shopping district, Abu Muhammad (ph) wonders why the whole process has taken so long. He says if Saddam is to be judged on all his crimes at this pace, the court would go on for years. He stopped watching the proceedings on television a long time ago.

Mr. ABU MUHAMMAD (Iraqi citizen): (Through translator) You waste your time watching it. It's far better to watch TOM AND JERRY instead.

TARABAY: The trial continues tomorrow.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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