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The first of Saddam's trials to begin

Deposed dictator faces charges over 1982 massacre of 140 Iraqis


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The first trial in the prosecution of Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity is scheduled to begin Wednesday with a lesser-known case in which more than 140 Iraqis were killed.

The former dictator, along with seven of his followers, will answer questions about a massacre in the small Sunni-Shiite town of Dujail, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, in 1982.

An Iraqi government official described the upcoming trial as the beginning of the nation's psychological healing.

The massacre of more than 140 people and a roundup of civilians in Dujail happened within hours of a Shiite political group's attempt to assassinate Saddam when he visited the town.

The landmark trial is set to take place just four days after Iraq's constitutional referendum.

Court officials are thought to have chosen to prosecute this case first because it is not as complex as the other charges brought against the former dictator.

Those charges involve the gassing to death of thousands of Kurds in 1988 in Halabja and the slaughter of thousands of Shiites during their uprising in 1991, after the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War.

'The disaster'

In this case, media reports piece together an account of what happened in Dujail, an event often referred to as "al karitha," or the disaster.

After being greeted by enthusiastic villagers, militants from Dawa, a Shiite Arab political movement, or its followers, opened fire on Saddam and his party, reports said. Historians generally agree it was the closest Saddam has come to assassination.

Many people were hanged, including teenagers, according to media reports.

Saddam trial: What to expect

A five-person bench, including a presiding judge, will hear the trial Wednesday at the Iraqi Special Tribunal inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Saddam is expected to appear in court, accompanied by his attorney, Khalil Duleimi, CNN has learned from a source close to the tribunal.

The seven other defendants also are expected to appear. They include Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan, half-brother and adviser to Saddam; Taha Yassin Ramadan, former vice president, and Awad Hamad al-Bandar, chief judge of Iraq's Revolutionary Court at the time of the killings.

The source said statements are likely to be made before the court identifying them and describing the crimes of which they are accused.

Defense attorneys likely will seek greater access to court materials or lawyers, and they may make motions regarding legal aspects of the case, analysts say.

Iraqi, not Western, proceedings

Proceedings in the court will not resemble U.S. trials.

"The judge takes a lot more control over the proceedings," the source close to the tribunal said. "You are not going to be picking a jury of 12 people and putting them in a box and having two attorneys battle things out."

Should a defendant be convicted and sentenced to death, the sentence could be carried out within 30 days after appeals are exhausted.

The whole world is watching

The tribunal's chief investigative judge, Ra'id Juhi, said the trial will be open to the public and media, including cameras, but authorities have not decided if the proceedings will be broadcast live.

He nonetheless expressed hope Thursday that there will be a live television signal from the courtroom.

If cameras are allowed, the judges must decide whether to allow their and witnesses' faces to be shown, the source close to the tribunal said.

Family members will be in the courtroom. An area will be set aside for observers, which could include representatives of international organizations that have requested to attend or have been invited by the court.

A separate, overflow room will enable other interested parties to watch via closed-circuit television.

Even if the trial begins as scheduled, the source said, it may not continue in the days immediately following.

"How long the adjournment would be would be up to the trial bench," the source said. "I would call this the beginning of an ongoing process."

CNN's Kevin Flower, Octavia Nasr, Erin McLaughlin and Joyce Joseph contributed to this report.

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