Across Iraq, it was essential viewing, with all eyes focussed on the man who once ruled the nation with a rod of iron – the man now on trial for his life. For the people of the Shi’ite stronghold of Najaf, justice was finally being done.
“He made us and our sons orphans,” said one woman.“He took away our men.” The sight of Saddam Hussein in a courtroom dock was something many Iraqis had longed for. The former strongman was typically defiant, insisting he was still Iraq’s head of state and asking the judge: “Who are you?” He dismissed the court as the product of an illegal invasion but despite this the ousted president did give a plea – of not guilty – as did the seven others on trial, all former members of his regime. The charges relate to the killing of over 140 men from the village of Dujail, following a failed assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982. Not surprisingly, there, the trial was watched with particular interest. One man said he wanted Saddam to be asked about the location of mass graves believed to contain the bodies of Dujail’s victims. However Iraq is a deeply divided country and in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, his supporters took to the streets. The trial has been adjourned until November 28. The deposed president’s defence team says it needs more time to prepare its case.