Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Judges Postpone Verdict in Saddam Trial

ABC News - Judges postponed their verdict in Saddam Hussein's trial Tuesday, a long-awaited decision that once held out the hope of healing Iraq's wounds but now threatens to spark even more sectarian violence.

The verdict had been expected on Oct. 16 but was delayed until at least the end of the month while judges take extra time to review the evidence and make sure their case is airtight.

But no matter how well crafted, the verdict could worsen violence that is already claiming dozens of lives daily. A death sentence for the former leader could enrage his Sunni Muslim supporters, while anything less is sure to infuriate Shiites who were oppressed under Saddam's regime.

That dilemma is a far cry from the hopes of many U.S. and Iraqi officials when the war crimes trial began nearly a year ago. They touted the tribunal as a way to help heal Iraq's divisions by exposing atrocities during Saddam's regime, establishing justice and opening the door for reconciliation.

"I think it would be a positive, not a negative," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday when asked about the prospect of a verdict, which had been expected on Oct. 16. "It would just bring closure to a chapter that was an unhappy and unpleasant and particularly vicious regime."

In the past year, however, Shiite-Sunni divisions have grown, with thousands killed by Sunni insurgents and death squads from both Islamic sects.

After nine months of often stormy court sessions, many Sunnis who are a minority in Iraq but were dominant under Saddam still see the tribunal as a show trial by the new Shiite leadership to take revenge on the ousted president.

"There is sympathy with Saddam, especially because what we see now makes many nostalgic for him," said Khalaf al-Alayan, a Sunni parliament member, referring to the violence in Iraq since Saddam's ouster by U.S.-led forces in April 2003. "So there could be a reaction if there is a death sentence."

Meanwhile, Shiites have made clear they will only accept execution for the leader whose regime persecuted their majority community and the Kurds.