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New Hussein judge sets strict tone

His changes aim to restore order, decorum to trial

BAGHDAD -- When Saddam Hussein entered the court ahead of his lawyers and other defendants, it was clear there was a new sheriff in town.

The change halted the practice of Hussein's codefendants and defense lawyers snapping to attention as the former leader strolled to his seat last.

It was all part of a tactic designed to restore order and decorum to the trial and stop Hussein from using it as a political forum.

Behind the new style is Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, a 65-year-old no-nonsense, tough-talking jurist who took over as chief judge last week and presided at his first session Sunday. The trial adjourned until tomorrow because of a national holiday.

Court officials said Abdel-Rahman acted within the law when he ordered Hussein, another defendant and a defense lawyer out for insulting the court or arguing with him. That prompted a walkout by the rest of the defense lawyers, leading the judge to name replacements.

Abdel-Rahman's actions, however, could raise questions about the trial's credibility if Hussein and the defense team refuse to return for the next session.

Yesterday, Khalil al-Dulaimi, Hussein's chief defense lawyer, said neither the former president nor his legal team would appear for the next session to protest Abdel-Rahman's ''bias."

Dulaimi renewed calls for the trial to be moved outside Iraq. Speaking in Amman, Jordan, he also rejected as illegal the appointment by the court of defense lawyers.

If forced to attend, Dulaimi said, Hussein would not sit at his designated place, but stand in a corner in protest.

Hussein and seven others, including his one-time intelligence chief and half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim, are on trial for the killing of more than 140 Shi'ites after an attempt in 1982 on the former president's life in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

They face death by hanging if convicted.

The trial began Oct. 19 with Rizqar Mohammed Amin as chief judge.

After seven sessions, Amin stepped down Jan. 15 amid charges that he had allowed Hussein to dominate the proceedings with frequent outbursts and complaints.

''If the judge completely shuts down the Saddam show, the former dictator will decide there is nothing to be gained by showing up in court and will boycott the rest of the trial," said Michael P. Scharf, a specialist on international legal procedures.

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