Bombs killed at least 30 people in Baghdad and wrecked the tomb of Saddam Hussein's father yesterday as the ousted leader was in court for the first time since days of sectarian violence pitched Iraq towards civil war.
Saddam's two lead defence counsels walked out within minutes of the trial restarting after a two-week pause when requests for a further adjournment and the removal of the chief judge were rejected. Officials said court-appointed lawyers would defend Saddam, as they had done since a previous walkout a month ago.
A subdued Saddam, who ended a hunger strike before the resumption, said little during the three-hour hearing but his half-brother objected loud and long on one occasion a pattern throughout the four-month-old trial, which has been troubled by charges of political bias and killings of two defence attorneys.
The former president, who has justified oppressive policies over three decades as necessary to holding Iraq together, sat quietly in the dock but his half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan al-Tikriti launched into a familiar shouting match with the judge, who ordered him: "Shut up and sit down!"
Barzan had complained about the court-appointed lawyers, saying it was the "law of the jungle," but the judge told him all he had to do was have his own counsel return.
With no witnesses scheduled, the prosecution presented documents they said showed Saddam knew of the killings of some 148 Shi'ite men from the town of Dujail, where the former president survived an assassination attempt in 1982.
Saddam spoke once, to question the documents' authenticity. The judge ruled some of the prosecution's material inadmissible, saying the provenance of some handwritten documents was unclear.
The court will sit again today. Court officials have said previously they expect a long adjournment after that.
PM's office: 379 killed over 6 days
Twenty-three people were killed when a bomb left at a petrol station in eastern Baghdad blasted people lining up for fuel, police said. At least seven were killed in two other explosions, including an apparent car bomb in a busy street across the Tigris river from the trial in one of Saddam's former palaces.
Some 115 people were wounded in all, police said, in the bloodiest onslaught in the capital in two months and among the most serious since an alleged al-Qaida bomb destroyed a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra last Wednesday, sparking tit-for-tat reprisals.
The prime minister's office, in an unusual move, issued a statement putting the total death toll over six days at 379 "martyrs" and denied reports that it was well over 1,000.
Baghdad morgue alone said it received 309 bodies since last Wednesday, most victims of violence. Morgue data showed this was double the average it handled 10,080 bodies in 2005.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, closely engaged in efforts to forge a national unity government, told CNN that Iraq "came to the brink of civil war" but said the present "crisis is over." He warned, however, that further flare-ups were possible.
Activity on Baghdad's streets was otherwise returning to normal after Monday's lifting of a three-day curfew. Saddam-era, Soviet-made Iraqi tanks guarded some Sunni mosques and Iraqi and US military units were on patrol. But overnight curfews remain in force across Iraq.
Source: China Daily