BAGHDAD, Iraq—For the first time since U.S. troops toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, an Iraqi judge Monday ordered officials of the former government to stand trial in connection with atrocities committed during the dictator's three-decade reign.
The trials were ordered for five former officials of Saddam's regime who were accused of ordering attacks in the tiny village of Dujail in retaliation for a 1982 assassination attempt against the dictator there. If convicted, the men could face the death penalty.
At least 143 residents of the village, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad, were rounded up and executed after the attempt failed, prosecutors said. Hundreds of others were imprisoned and acres of crops were razed, destroying the area's farm economy.
The assassination plot was said to have been engineered by the Dawa Party, an influential Shiite Muslim political faction whose leader, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is now the top contender to become Iraq's new prime minister.
"This is a victory for the Iraqi people," said Adnan al-Asady, a political officer of the Dawa Party. "We'll let the criminals take their punishment from the laws of God and from the laws decided by Iraqis."
The five men, including one of Saddam's half-brothers, appeared separately before Iraqi Special Tribunal Judge Raed Jouhi al-Saadi, who ruled that the evidence against them was strong enough for referral to a five-judge panel that will decide their guilt or innocence.
Monday's proceedings were closed to the public and kept secret until they were over because of security risks.
There was no word on when the five-judge panel would begin hearing testimony and examining evidence in the case. At least 45 days must pass between Monday's referral and the beginning of a trial, according to Iraqi law.
All of the men have been given defense attorneys, a statement from the tribunal said.
Iraqi prosecutors have accused other former officials, including Saddam, of crimes. But Monday's rulings were the first time that charges were referred for trial.
The charges stem from an apparent plot to kill Saddam as he drove through the village. Accounts of the attempt said villagers had marked Saddam's car with sheep's blood, supposedly as a sign of respect, but in reality a code to would-be assassins.
Saddam, however, had switched cars by the time gunmen opened fire and he was uninjured, though several members of his entourage died.
The men charged Monday were:
_Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, 53. Saddam's half-brother and a former chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, al-Tikriti is accused of coordinating the initial investigation that led to the mass roundup of Dujail residents. Al-Tikriti was the five of clubs, No. 38, among the 55 suspects from Saddam's regime whose pictures were printed on decks of playing cards.
_Taha Ramadan, 66. Ramadan, one of Saddam's closest confidants and eventually his vice president, headed the committee that decided to raze acres of date palms and other crops in a campaign to destroy the Dujail economy. Ramadan was the 10 of diamonds, No. 20, in the deck of cards.
_Awad Bandar al-Saadoun, 60. The former chief judge of Iraq's Revolutionary Court signed 143 execution orders for Dujail residents.
_Abdullah Roweed, 79, and Mizher Roweed, 50. Father and son, both local Baath Party officials, were arrested Monday at their home in Dujail. They're accused of supervising the roundup of residents suspected of Dawa Party membership or involvement in the Dujail plot.
While the initial referral of charges was closed to the public, the trials are expected to be televised with special measures to protect the identities of witnesses.
(A Knight Ridder special correspondent who isn't named for security reasons contributed to this report from Baghdad.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.