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Testimony in Saddam trial delayed

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Saddam Hussein's problematic murder trial hit another hole in the road Tuesday when the court, citing missing witnesses, postponed resuming the historic proceeding until Sunday.

Court officials said the missing witnesses were still on their religious pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia or had just returned and couldn't reach Baghdad in time. They denied reports that the delay was the result of a dispute among judges over who should preside at the trial.

"Since some of the complainants and witnesses are currently outside Iraq for pilgrimage, the court has decided to delay the hearing until Sunday," court spokesman Raed Juhi said Tuesday about four hours after the trial was to have resumed.

The delay raised more questions about the competency and credibility of the Iraqi High Tribunal to try the deposed dictator and his seven co-defendants. Several delays and controversies have beset the trial since its opening session Oct. 19.

Since then, the trial has convened for only six sessions. Tuesday would have been the seventh, and the first presided over by Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, who was tapped at the last minute to replace Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who quit amid criticism that he'd failed to stop Saddam and other defendants from controlling the proceedings.

Reports circulating here laid Tuesday's delay to judges fighting Abdel-Rahman's appointment, but Juhi, in an interview with Knight Ridder late Tuesday, said there was no dispute over the appointment. "On the contrary, Judge Raouf is running the court, and he is the one who decided to delay the session."

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Musawi also said the delay resulted from missing witnesses.

Defense attorneys said the delay underscored the tribunal's inability to provide Saddam with a fair trial.

Tuesday isn't the first time the proceeding has sparked controversy. Two defense attorneys have been killed, and Abdel-Rahman got the presiding judge post only after the court passed over Amin's deputy, Judge Sayeed al-Hammash, when he was accused of being a former member of Saddam's Baath party, which he denied.

Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, and his co-defendants are accused of killing almost 150 people after the 1982 attempted assassination of the former dictator in Dujail, a predominantly Shiite Muslim city. If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to death.

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(Hannah reports for the Contra Costa Times. Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Zaineb Obeid contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Saddam Hussein

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