BAGHDAD, Jan 22: The trial of ousted military dictator Saddam Hussein is set to resume on Tuesday with a new presiding judge after his predecessor quit over charges he was not firm enough with the accused. Said al-Hammashi will replace Rizkar Mohammed Amin as head of the five-judge panel hearing the case against the former dictator and seven co-accused charged with mass killings of residents from the town of Dujail, where Saddam escaped a plot to kill him in 1982.

The accused face death by hanging if found guilty.

Amin, a Kurdish judge who chaired the first seven hearings after the trial started on October 19, resigned earlier this month after critics said he was allowing defendants’ threats to undermine the dignity of the court.

His supporters said he only sought to give defendants as much leeway as possible to ensure the process was seen as fair.

The case has raised strong passions in Iraq and the court has been surrounded by very tight security measures after two defence lawyers were murdered at the start of hearings.

Many of the witnesses, prosecutors and even judges have had their identities kept secret.

Hammashi, a Shia, suggested in a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that he would take a tougher line with the defendants.

“It doesn’t matter who’s in the dock before me, a former president or someone else. What I’m interested in is seeing that justice is done,” he said.

“I intend on running hearings in line with the law and court rules,” he added.

The new judge however has already come under criticism for having been an active member of Saddam’s Baath party.

A commission charged with purging the administration of former senior Baath party officials urged the government to ban the new judge.

But Iraqi High Tribunal instructing judge Raed al-Juhi said the court had rejected this appeal.

“The tribunal will not take into account the recommendation of the de-Baathication commission, and Said al-Hammashi will continue his work on the bench,” Juhi told the press last week.

Hammashi was born in Baghdad in 1952. He graduated from the law department of Baghdad University and went on to become a practising lawyer during the Saddam regime, the colleague said.

Hammashi later went to Italy and Britain to learn more about crimes against humanity in preparation for the Saddam trial.

When hearings resume on Tuesday, following a month-long recess, the court will start reviewing testimonies from victims and witnesses, along with documentary evidence into the killings of Shias in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

Only when this material has been presented will the judges draft specific, formal charges against each of the accused, according to Kevin Dooley, a US legal adviser to the Iraqi tribunal.

Providing interruptions and delays are kept to a minimum, the trial could be over by June, said Dooley, who heads the Regime Crimes Liaison Office, a Baghdad-based body of legal experts set up by the US government in May 2004.

There are no clear guidelines as to how long an appeal process will take, but if a conviction — such as capital punishment — were upheld it must be carried out within 30 days.—AFP

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