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Iraq Charges Saddam Hussein in Massacre

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Authorities in Iraq have referred Saddam Hussein to stand trial for a 1982 massacre in a Shiite village. No date for the trial has been set, but it's expected to occur within the next three months. NPR's Tom Bullock reports from Baghdad.

TOM BULLOCK reporting:

The indictment of Saddam Hussein was announced yesterday, July 17th, a national holiday under his regime, celebrating the coup that brought the Baath Party to power in Iraq. Speaking at the Baghdad Convention Center, not far from the courtroom specially built for the trials of members of Saddam's former regime, the chief investigating judge of Iraq's special tribunal gave the brief but direct announcement.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

BULLOCK: Saddam Hussein and three others will be the first to stand trial, all charged with the murder of more than 140 Shiite men from a small village north of Baghdad. Saddam and his co-defendants all face the death penalty if convicted. The charges date back to 1982, when Saddam Hussein and his convoy came under attack as it drove through the Shiite village of Dujail. Investigators say Saddam ordered his security services to round up and kill locals in reprisal for the failed assassination attempt. The others mentioned in the indictment are said to have helped organize and carry out the murders.

It may seem strange for Iraq's special tribunal to first try Saddam Hussein for what seems, in Iraq, a relatively minor crime when compared to the poison gas attacks launched on Iraq's Kurdish minority or the brutal repression of Iraq's Shiite majority after the first Gulf War, both of which are believed to have lead to the deaths of thousands. But Iraqi investigators are clear; they chose the massacre in Dujail because it's a relatively straightforward case, involving evidence they believe is strong enough to convict Saddam Hussein and the others charged.

Tom Bullock, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.