BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Saddam Hussein’s defiant walkout from his trial produced a predictable reaction from Iraqis; they were split along sectarian lines.
Some applauded stern new judge Raouf Abdel Rahman for throwing Saddam’s half-brother and former intelligence chief out of the court after he called the trial a “daughter of a whore” and then standing up to the toppled Iraqi leader.
“This is what we want as Shi’ites because Saddam and his henchmen had a death warrant for Shiites,” said Hamid al-Musawi, 35, in the southern city of Najaf.
Saddam and his defence team stormed out of the court in protest and threatened to boycott future hearings unless the judge apologised.
“The tyrant was trying Shi’ites for simple things like practicing religious rituals,” said Musawi. “The judge is good. He has an excellent style. He is not afraid of these Baathists. God willing the judge will announce a death sentence.”
Abdel Rahman, a Kurd, took over as chief judge of the court after his predecessor resigned in protest against what he said was government pressure on him to get tough with Saddam, whose tirades dominated previous hearings.
Abdel Rahman’s fellow Kurds, along with the Shi’ite Arabs, long oppressed under Saddam, were optimistic the new judge would impose order.
“The first judge was too lenient. Raouf will hold the trial together,” said Haways Abdullah, a 33-year-old Arabic teacher in the northern city of Sulaimaniya.
But for Sunni Arabs, Saddam’s trial is a painful reminder of the days when his minority sect dominated the country and the stern new judge has only fuelled their suspicions.
“The court becomes more comic in each session. It is an American court not an Iraqi one,” said Nihad al-Samaraee, a 35-year-old Sunni college professor.
“Dismissing the defendant shows the judge is tense, weak and politically motivated. Saddam defied the court and he always mocks it. I expect that things will get worse.”
Saddam and seven co-accused are charged with crimes against humanity in the killing of 148 Shi’ites in the village of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt on his life in 1982.
Chaos in the U.S.-sponsored court has raised questions over whether Saddam can get a fair trial.
“This isn’t a court it is a comedy, an illegal one. The judge is the important figure in the court so he should be quiet,” said Rashad Abdul Wahab, a Sunni painter.
“This should be an international court because this is a politically motivated trial and aims to sentence Saddam no matter what.”
Others said the court had become a test of wills between Saddam and Abdel Rahman.
“We want to have an end to this. Saddam is stubborn and the court tries to show it is stronger. Either sentence him without a trial or hold a legal trial,” said Oday Salman, 29, a Sunni grocer.
The Baghdad edition of an Arabic newspaper summed up its view of the trial with a caricature of Saddam holding a cigar in in the judge’s seat with nervous defendants and a caption reading “The new judge in the eyes of Saddam and his aides.”