The official's remarks appeared to diminish Tuesday's claim by President Jalal Talabani that Saddam confessed to killings and other "crimes" committed during his regime. The tribunal official said the former dictator only acknowledged taking retribution, which was legal under his regime.
The tribunal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said Saddam made his statements about retribution last month during questioning in preparation for his trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 19.
The official said Saddam demanded that a court decide if he was justified in ordering the so-called Anfal campaign in 1987-88, which killed more than 180,000 Kurds and resulted in the ethnic cleansing of numerous Kurdish communities in northern Iraq.
Saddam claimed Kurds in the region were aiding Iran in the war with Iraq that had dragged on for nearly a decade by then.
Late Tuesday, Talabani said in a TV interview that Saddam had confessed to killings and other "crimes" — including the Anfal operation — and should be put to death.
"Saddam Hussein is a war criminal and he deserves to be executed 20 times a day for his crimes against humanity," said Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.
He added that Saddam tried to assassinate him at least 20 times.
But Abdel Haq Alani, a legal consultant for Saddam's family, said Talabani's allegations sounded like the president was trying to prejudice the trial.
"Let's not have a trial on TV. Let the court of law, not the media, make its ruling on this," Alani said.