09/03/2005, 00.00
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Saddam's trial fixed for 19 October

 The trial will start shortly after the referendum on the Constitution. Official sources say it will not take long to reach a verdict.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Saddam Hussein and several aides will go on trial on Oct. 19, an Iraqi government source said on Friday. The process, for the killing of dozens of Shi'ite villagers at Dujail in 1982, will therefore be starting just a few days after a referendum on a new constitution.

Saddam followers also play a role in the violence against U.S. troops and forces loyal to the Shi'ite-led government. For that reason, the timing of the trial has been sensitive; judicial officials indicated last month that the Dujail hearings would be ready to begin by the beginning of October, so the choice of Oct. 19 appears politically driven to avoid it clashing with the referendum campaign.

The timing of any conviction and sentencing, and indeed execution, may be similarly affected by a parliamentary election due in December. Officials say the trial will not run into years or anything like the time former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic has been before the international court at The Hague.

Weeks rather than months, was a forecast by one official involved in the process. He also said recently it was possible that Saddam might be executed if convicted only of the killings at Dujail, so that further trials for mass murder against Kurds and Shi'ites and other offences might never take place.

The Iraqi government, reflecting a popular mood, seems keen on dispatching the former leader quickly, hence the choice of the relatively small Dujail case to begin the process. Prosecutors have said Saddam's direct responsibility for the deaths may be easier to prove. The case involves the deaths of possibly more than 140 men from the village, north of Baghdad, where Saddam survived an assassination attempt in 1982.

The trial will be held in a specially prepared building inside the fortified Green Zone government compound which was once Saddam's presidential palace complex on the Tigris.

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