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War-crimes trials gear up in Iraq

Hussein and others may be tried in next few weeks in cases that will ripple around the world.

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With the paint still drying on the walls of the newly constructed Baghdad courthouse, the Iraqi Special Tribunal is counting down to T-day, when it places the alleged perpetrators of the world's most gruesome crimes on trial in front of television cameras for the world to witness.

War-crimes trials for Saddam Hussein and 11 of his Baathist Party cohorts, accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations, will begin within the next two to four weeks, according to a US government official who works with the Iraqis.

They are crucial for not only bringing these leaders to justice, according to international law and human rights experts. But they are essential to promoting the healing of a population still reeling from war and decades of barbaric rule, and for providing a boost to the new Iraqi government's legitimacy.

"These trials are enormously important because of the scale and gravity of the crimes committed by the Baath Party government in the past, and as a means of bringing some sense of redress to the victims and survivors of the victims across Iraq," says Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program for Human Rights Watch in New York. "They are also important as a way of helping plant respect for the rule of law in a new Iraq."

First case to come up

The first to sit in the dock is likely to be Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," for the role he played in the chemical weapons attacks that killed as many as 100,000 Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988. Then, Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, commander of the Special Republican Guard as well as director of the Mukhabarat, the notorious intelligence service, is expected to be tried for torturing and murdering thousands of people.

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