BAGHDAD -- The trial of Saddam Hussein is scheduled to resume today after a five-day postponement. When the five judges file into the courtroom, they will be acutely aware of the need to restore public confidence in the trial.
The delay prompted Hussein's defense team to call for the proceedings to be abandoned. The court has been in turmoil since its chief judge resigned after citing government interference.
The former dictator and seven codefendants are on trial for crimes against humanity, charged with killing 148 men from the Shi'ite town of Dujail after a failed bid to assassinate him there in 1982.
Court officials attributed the postponement to the failure of some witnesses to turn up, saying they were still on the Muslim hajj pilgrimage, although that had ended 10 days previously.
Frustrated Iraqis reacted angrily to the new delay in the trial, which first got underway last October. Many in Iraq, particularly among the Shi'ite and Kurdish communities that were oppressed under Hussein, want the authorities to speed up proceedings.
But the trial has been marred by numerous delays, the slayings of two members of the defense team, the resignation of chief judge Rizgar Amin, and the accusation that his stand-in, Sayeed al-Hamashi, belonged to the ousted Ba'ath Party.
Only two of the original five judges still remain. A third judge quit last year, citing a conflict of interest.
''The removal of Judge Hamashi from the trial created the appearance of a court that is continually subjected to political interference," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at New York-based Human Rights Watch. ''Sitting judges cannot be shuffled around as though they were deck chairs on the Titanic."
Hamashi has since been replaced by Raouf Abdel Rahman, a Kurd whose appointment was reported to have caused a split among other judges on the panel.