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Arduous Hussein trial winding up

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As they began the closing phase of an often-troubled trial, Iraqi prosecutors Monday called for death sentences against Saddam Hussein and three former aides for crimes against humanity that "spread corruption on earth and where not even the trees escape their oppression."

Chief Judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman held firm control of a court that has sunk into disarray and farce at times during the eight months it has heard the case of Dujail, where 148 people were killed after a 1982 assassination attempt against Mr. Hussein.

The trial was designed to bring justice to a nation starved of it during a generation of Hussein's authoritarian rule. But ending that era, and instilling new faith in the rule of law among Iraqis, is proving difficult in the face of insurgency, chronic insecurity, and sectarian bloodshed – not to mention courtroom antics that have often been more comical than judicial.

Hussein, with a graying beard and hair apparently dyed black, sat poker-faced Monday, occasionally cracking a bemused smile. When the prosecutor finished his arguments, Hussein muttered sarcastically: "Well done."

The Dujail case is the first of a string of cases against Hussein and the former regime, most of greater magnitude. They include the gassing of Halabja that killed 5,000 Kurds in 1988, and the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in northern Iraq that same year, which left some 100,000 dead and 4,000 villages destroyed.

Investigators are continuing to unearth mass graves as they collect evidence for subsequent proceedings. Already they say they have documented evidence of more than 100,000 victims from an anti-Shiite crackdown after the 1991 Gulf War.


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