Investigators grilled Saddam Hussein about his role in the brutal suppression of a Shiite uprising in 1991 as they sought to build another criminal case against the ousted dictator, Iraqi officials said Friday.
Saddam answered questions at a 45-minute hearing Thursday in the presence of an Iraqi defense lawyer, said Raid Juhi, the Iraqi Special Tribunal's chief investigative judge.
The former leader was asked about the tens of thousands of Shiites and Kurds believed to have been killed in the wake of the uprising that erupted after U.S.-led forces drove the Iraqi army from Kuwait in the Gulf War. Many Shiites mistakenly believed the United States would support them in their revolt against Saddam.
Juhi said he thinks he is close to concluding the criminal probe into Saddam's crackdown against Shiites in southern Iraq, as well as his campaign during the late 1980s to force Iraqi Kurds from wide areas of the north.
A trial date should be announced soon — the first of about a dozen trials that Saddam and former regime officials are expected to face, Juhi said.
In a videotape released last week, Saddam was seen being questioned about the case of the Shiite Kurds, who were forcibly deported to Iran during the early 1980s.
Earlier this month, the tribunal filed its first criminal charges against Saddam, accusing him and three others in the July 1982 massacre of an estimated 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad, in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt on him.
Others being charged in the Dujail case are Barazan Ibrahim, intelligence chief at the time and Saddam's half-brother; former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, at the time a Baath party official in Dujail. If convicted they could receive the death penalty.
The former president is expected to be charged with at least 13 crimes for which he could face the death penalty.
Saddam, 68, has been jailed under American control at a U.S. military detention complex near Baghdad International Airport.
Other charges against him include killing rival politicians over 30 years, gassing about 5,000 Kurds in the northern town of Halabja in 1988, and invading Kuwait in 1990.
Iraqi investigators have based their work on two million official documents from Saddam's era, information from 7,000 witnesses as well as reports from forensic experts who checked some of the 200 mass graves throughout the country.