BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP)- A prosecutor in the Saddam Hussein trial said Friday that a key witness in the case has died of cancer, but his testimony has already been recorded on audio and video tape for presentation in the trial which is scheduled to begin next week.
Wadah Ismael Al-Sheik died on Oct.27, four days after talking to court officials, said Jafaar al-Mousawi, the main prosecutor. He said the testimony at a U.S. detention center was "on the side of the victims."
Al-Sheik, was a senior Iraqi intelligence officer at the time of the Dujail massacre in 1982 that Saddam and seven other co-defendants are charged with. The trial is set to reopen on Monday.
If convicted, the Saddam and the others could face the death penalty for their role in the 1982 killing of nearly 150 people from the mainly Shiite town of Dujail north of Baghdad after a failed attempt on Saddam”s life.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber blew up his car outside a hospital south of Baghdad while U.S. troops handed out candy and food to children, killing 30 people and wounding about 40, including four Americans.
Three women and two children were among the dead in the attack outside the hospital in Mahmoudiya, a flashpoint town 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Baghdad in the "triangle of death" notorious for attacks on Shiite Muslims, U.S. troops and foreign travelers.
A civil affairs team from the U.S. Army”s Task Force Baghdad was at the hospital studying ways to upgrade the facility when the bomber struck just outside the guarded compound, a U.S. military statement said.
Elsewhere, 11 Iraqis were killed and 17 injured Thursday when a car bomb exploded near a crowded soft drink stand in Hillah, a mostly Shiite Muslim city 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of Baghdad. More than 200 people, mostly Shiites, have died from suicide attacks and car bombs since Friday.
U.S. and Iraqi officials had been expecting a rise in violence before the Dec. 15 election, when voters will select their first fully constitutional parliament since the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
On Thursday, government spokesman Laith Kubba called the pre-election attacks "the last stand" of "Muslim extremists and Saddam”s criminals," predicting they would rapidly lose support after establishment of a new government and a national reconciliation conference expected early next year.
More voters of the Sunni Arab minority, the backbone of the insurgency, are expected to vote this time, unlike the January balloting that many of them boycotted. Some Sunni insurgent groups have condemned the election and are expected to launch attacks to discourage a big turnout.
The United States hopes a big Sunni turnout will produce a broad-based government that can win the minority”s trust, helping to take the steam out of the insurgency and hasten the day when American and other foreign troops can go home.
At a meeting last weekend in Egypt to pave the way for the reconciliation conference, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he was willing to talk with insurgent groups if they agreed to lay down their arms and renounce terrorism.
On Thursday, residents of Anbar province said four insurgent groups were considering naming a representative to spell out their conditions to Talabani. The four include the Islamic Army of Iraq, the 1920 Revolution Brigade, the Mujahedeen Army and al-Jamea Brigades.
The residents, who have contacts with the insurgents, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Significantly, the four groups do not include the country”s most feared terror organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or the al-Sunnah Army and Ansar al-Islam. All are Islamic extremist groups believed to have staged many suicide attacks.
U.S. and Iraqi officials believe their best chance for a negotiated settlement of the insurgency involves driving a wedge between religious extremists and groups led by members of Saddam”s Baath Party more interested in retaining a share of power than waging holy war.
However, the initial contacts appear to be well short of negotiations, a process expected to be complicated and protracted due to the different goals of Iraq”s numerous religious and ethnic communities.
A U.S. statement said a soldier from Task Force Baghdad was killed Thursday in a single-vehicle accident involving his M-1 Abrams tank. No other details were released and the name of the victim was withheld pending notification of kin.