Saddam Sees Kurdish Foe in His Old Presidential Seat

Two years after the overthrow of his regime, Saddam Hussein and his 11 closest aides were forced to watch from their cells as their deadly foe Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani was crowned by the first freely elected national assembly President of Iraq. He became the first non-Arab to rule an Arab state.

The viewing was practically forced on them. Monitors and the videotapes which recorded the occasion on Wednesday, April 6, were brought to their cells.

Among the watchers was Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan Majid, better known as “Chemical Ali” who ordered the poison gas attack that murdered 5,000 Kurds in Halabje.

Saddam is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly to have thrown a temper tantrum.

Two months before the Iraq war, in January 2003, Saddam sent a letter to Talabani warning him that, by permitting US special and intelligence forces to operate out of Kurdistan, he was opening a northern front against the Baghdad regime and would pay dearly. Talabani replied: Let’s meet again after the war and see who pays.

As president, it is up to the Kurdish leader to sign the order for the trials of the deposed ruler and his top officials to begin.

The special tribunal was established in December 2003 by the Iraqi Government Council. Its investigating judges must refer the charges to the trial judges. Their names have not been released for security reasons. The tribunal has been studying the work of international courts, training and holding rehearsals overseas. International experts are acting as advisers.

The top detainees are former deputy PM Tariq Aziz, Vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan, Defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tal, Ali Hasan al-Majid and intelligence minister Watban Ibrahim Hassan.

Testimony from the trials of high-ranking Baath officials may be used to solidify the cases against Saddam and his lieutenants.

When Saddam’s legal team was still operational, its members questioned the lack of regular contact with him. His first meeting with a lawyer took place on 16 December 2004, almost a year after he was captured. He is now said to be in good health after undergoing a hernia operation.

No one, including the Americans, is in a hurry for the trials to go forward.

Neither is Saddam.

This is because, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal here, his defense team has fallen apart. The estimated $25 million raised for the team from Baath party faithful around the Middle East, mainly in Syria, has vanished.

The lawyers on the team accuse their leader Ziyad Hassanwa of pocketing the money and spending it to buy up real estate in Lebanon. Since the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, Lebanese properties are the hottest investment item in the region for Arab tycoons.

The dispute in Saddam’s defense team has caused a breakdown in contact between his lawyers in Iraq and those outside, who have turned their attention to suing Hassanwa in Amman in an attempt to recover the funds to cover their fees.

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