BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – Iraq’s prime minister said on Saturday he hoped Saddam Hussein gets “what he deserves” when judgment is delivered in his trial for crimes against humanity on Sunday, and called for calm amid fears of a violent backlash. If convicted, Saddam could be sentenced to hang.
The army was on alert with all leave cancelled and state television said a curfew will keep Baghdad and two flashpoint provinces locked down on Sunday. A source in the prime minister’s office said it was not clear how long it would last.
Saddam’s chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said Saddam believed the verdict was timed to boost President George W. Bush before U.S. mid-term elections on Nov. 7, and urged a delay.
Former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, who leads an international group of lawyers involved in the defence, said Saddam would almost certainly receive the death sentence but it would be “victors’ justice”. “It will create violence maybe for generations to come,” he said, adding that the trial was politically influenced. “It’s an unfair trial in more ways than you can count. Where have we seen a trial take place in the midst of such uncontrollable violence?,” he said.
Saddam, 69, and seven co-accused have been charged with crimes against humanity for the killing of 148 Shi’ite villagers after an attempt on his life in the town of Dujail in 1982.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said Saddam’s execution cannot come soon enough, fuelling charges of political interference in the U.S.-backed independent tribunal.
On Saturday Maliki said he hoped Saddam gets “what he deserves” for what he did to the Iraqi people. Maliki, who leads a government dominated by Shi’ites and Kurds, called for calm and urged Iraqis to “express their happiness in a way that takes into consideration the security situation”.
Even if he is sentenced to death, it may be many months, even years, before he is hanged as appeals are heard. Saddam is due back in court on Tuesday in another trial, for genocide against ethnic Kurds.
Iraqi state television said an indefinite curfew would be imposed in Baghdad and the provinces of Diyala and Salahaddin, Saddam’s home province, from early on Sunday morning.
The Defence Ministry on Friday cancelled all leave for army officers in anticipation of the verdict.
Saddam remains a deeply divisive figure in a country riven by sectarian violence between the Sunni Arab minority and the Shi’ites, who were oppressed by Saddam but now dominate political power. Various Sunni Arab insurgent groups see him as a figurehead in their resistance against U.S. troops.
While the eyes of the world may be turned to the trial, many Iraqis are preoccupied with relentless sectarian violence and insurgent attacks killing hundreds every week.
“Every day my heart is tortured when one of my six sons is late, fearing he might be kidnapped or hurt,” said Um Adnan, a 68-year-old housewife. “Don’t ask me about Saddam, ask me about seeing peace prevail in Iraq and my sons stay alive.”
In Baghdad on Saturday, U.S.-backed Iraqi special forces raided a “murder and kidnapping cell” in the Shi’ite slum district of Sadr City, returning to an area where recent raids have sparked tensions with Washington over cracking down on militias. Three suspects were arrested, U.S. forces said.
Washington has been pressing Maliki to crack down on the Mehdi Army, a Shi’ite Muslim militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose movement provides him key support in parliament.
Sadr City is the main Baghdad stronghold of the Mehdi Army, accused by Sunni Muslims of operating death squads.