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Shouting Match At Saddam Trial

There's a new judge in charge at the Saddam Hussein genocide trial, but the change at the top has not altered one constant for the former Iraqi president: plenty of fireworks in the courtroom.

Protesting the appointment of the new judge – put in because the previous judge was viewed as too soft on the defense - Saddam's lawyers began the day Wednesday by storming out of the court, and then the former Iraqi president himself got thrown out – by the judge.

The courtroom drama unfolded as dozens of Iraqis again found themselves in harm's way, with a fresh crop of bombs.

Tuesday night, at least 21 people were killed and another 50 wounded when a suicide bomber in a parked car near an Iraqi army base in the city of Sharqat Tuesday night detonated his explosives as a crowd gathered at the scene.

Wednesday morning, seven policemen were killed and another six people, including a civilian, were injured when a suicide truck bomb slammed into a police headquarters building in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad.

In other recent developments:

  • The U.S. military is likely to maintain through next spring the current force levels of over 140,000 troops in Iraq. That's according to Gen. John Abizaid, who says the deployments of other units can be extended if necessary. Last year, the Pentagon said it hoped to reduce troop levels to about 100,000 by the end of 2006. Abizaid says rising sectarian violence and the slow progress of the Iraqi government have made that impossible.
  • President Bush, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that the U.S. will keep soldiers in Iraq as long as necessary. "I've told the president of Iraq that America has given her word to help you, and we will keep our word. The people of Iraq must know that," said Mr. Bush.
  • Tuesday, the U.S. military said four more soldiers were killed in Iraq. At least one was killed by a suicide car bombing in the northern part of the country.
  • A rocket attack on a Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad Tuesday afternoon killed 10 people and wounded 19. Five rockets landed on homes in the Abu Tesher neighborhood in the predominantly Sunni Arab Dora district, said a captain with the Dora police.
  • Tribes in one of Iraq's most volatile provinces have joined together to fight the insurgency in their region, and have called on the government and the U.S.-led military coalition for weapons, a prominent tribal leader said Monday.
  • Three Iraqi army soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb that targeted their patrol in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital. A gunman on a motorcycle killed a woman and a group attacked a family in their home, killing two brothers.
  • In Baghdad Wednesday, Mohammed al-Uraibiy, a Shiite Muslim Arab, was presiding over the genocide trial of Saddam Hussein instead of Abdullah al-Amiri.

    When the session began with al-Uraibiy in charge, the defense lawyers questioned the impartiality of the trial.

    "We don't expect from this court established under the occupation authorities to be fair, so we decided to withdraw from this trial," defense lawyer Wadoud Fawzi told the court, reading a statement on behalf of the defense team. "The decision to sack the judge at the orders of the government shows that this trial lacks the standards of a fair trial."

    Al-Uraibiy responded, saying the court will appoint new lawyers.

    When Saddam protested, al-Uraibiy ordered him out of the courtroom. A fiery exchange ensued.

    The deposed leader told the judge: "Your father was a security agent and he went on working as security agent until the fall of Baghdad" — a reference to the 2003 U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam's regime.

    "I challenge you in front of the public if this is the case," al-Uraibiy shouted in response to Saddam's claim.

    "I challenge you in front of the public if this is the case (his father was a security agent)," shouted al-Uraibiy, who was a deputy to the sacked chief judge.

    The Iraqi High Tribunal, the country's supreme court, had asked for al-Amiri, the chief judge, to be replaced in a letter to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who approved it Tuesday, according to an Iraqi government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

    Hussein al-Duri, an aide to al-Maliki, said one reason for al-Amiri's replacement was the judge's comments last week in a court session, in which he told Saddam, "You were not a dictator."

    "The head of the court is requested to run and control the session, and he is not allowed to violate judicial regulations, " al-Duri told Al-Arabiya television. "It is not allowed for the judge to express his opinion."

    Al-Amiri's comment angered many Kurds and Shiites, fueling their criticism that he was too lenient with Saddam. Prosecutors in the trial had already asked for al-Amiri to be replaced after he allowed Saddam to lash out at Kurdish witnesses during a court session.

    The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says it is "very concerned" about al-Amiri's removal. "This appears to be improper interference in the independence of the tribunal, and may greatly damage the court," the non-governmental organization said in a statement signed by Richard Dicker, the director of its International Justice Program.

    The statement asserted that the statute of the Iraqi High Tribunal trying Saddam and six co-defendants ensures the independence of the court. The tribunal's presidency, however, can - under a recommendation from the government - remove a judge from a trial.

    The Cabinet's action "is a clear and damaging violation of the judicial independence of the Iraqi High Tribunal," it added.

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