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Saddam Hussein Trial Suspended Until December 21st

I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Baghdad has been suspended until after parliamentary elections. The elections will take place on Thursday. The trial is to continue on December twenty-first.

Saddam Hussein is on trial with seven other men. The charges involve the killing of more than one hundred forty people from the Shiite town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. They were executed after an attack directed at Saddam Hussein in nineteen eighty-two.

Gunmen from a Shiite party fired at a vehicle in which he rode through the town. The Iraqi leader was rescued after several hours of fighting. Later, his security forces attacked Dujail. They destroyed houses and businesses, and took away most of the men. Many never returned.

The trial began on October nineteenth. The seven other men charged include Saddam Hussein's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim. He was the Iraqi intelligence chief at the time of the killings. Another is Taha Yassin Ramadan. He was vice president from nineteen ninety-one to two thousand three. A third defendant is Awad Haman Bander Sadun. He was chief of Iraq's Revolutionary Court. He signed death sentences in connection with Dujail killings.

A group of five judges will decide the case. A chief investigating judge questions those who give evidence in the court. So far, those witnesses have described watching close family members being questioned, tortured and killed.

They have told how security forces destroyed crops and property in Dujail. And they have described being held for years in the Abu Ghraib prison. The men on trial, however, say the witnesses have not named them as connected in any way to these crimes.

Iraqi and American officials planned the trial after American troops captured Saddam Hussein in two thousand three. The officials say holding the trial in the country provides a good example for a democratic Iraq.

But violence has interfered with the trial. Two defense lawyers have been killed. Another has resigned. And officials have said they discovered a plot to attack the courtroom. Also, one of the judges left the trial when he learned that one of the defendants had signed an order for the death of his brother.

The defendants have shouted at the judges and other people in the courtroom. Saddam Hussein has denounced the court and told the judge to "go to hell." On Wednesday he refused to attend the trial. It continued without him. He has promised to be in court when the trial begins again on December twenty-first.

The former president could be executed if found guilty of the Dujail killings. But Iraqi government lawyers are preparing twelve other cases that could be brought against him in the future.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are on the Web at I'm Steve Ember.