Saddam to go on trial but to challenge court.

Two years after he was captured, Saddam Hussein will go on trial on Wednesday but his lawyers will challenge the legitimacy of the U.S.-backed court trying him.

Saddam's lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said Saddam was calm and confident of his innocence on the eve of his trial.

"I saw him this afternoon and his morale is very high," Dulaimi told Reuters. "I told him about the accusations and he said he was sure he is innocent.

"He said he didn't care about them," he said.

Dulaimi said he would immediately seek an adjournment of the trial, arguing he had insufficient time to prepare. A defense team statement said he would also challenge the jurisdiction of the Special Tribunal, whose five judges were chosen two years ago by U.S. officials.

"Iraqi President Saddam Hussein cannot get a fair trial before this special court. It is created illegally and denies him basic human rights," the statement said.

The charges of crimes against humanity against Saddam and seven of his associates stem from the deaths of more than 140 men from the mostly Shi'ite village of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt against him there in 1982.

The trial will open four days after Iraqis voted in a referendum on a new constitution, meant to draw a line under the Saddam era. Though final results are yet to be announced, Iraqis are believed to have backed the new constitution.

But officials have had to play down suggestions of fraud and politicians from Saddam's once dominant Sunni Arab minority have complained of rigged ballots and warned of unrest.

In a statement posted on a pro-insurgency Web site, Saddam's outlawed Baath party called on insurgents to launch attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces at the start of the trial.

"Strike at the army and security forces of the agent regime and its leaders and its traitorous figures," said the statement issued on Monday.

The trial will be held in an ornate courtroom set up in a building in Baghdad that once stored gifts that were showered on him by foreign leaders and his own terrified subjects.

The case is the first which could be brought against him, including the 1988 gassing of Kurdish villagers and the brutal suppression of a Shi'ite uprising after the 1991 Gulf War.

Iran said on Tuesday it had sent charges against Saddam to the court, including that of using chemical weapons against Iranian civilians in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

If convicted, Saddam could be hanged.

Even by Iraqi standards, the trial will be held under unprecedented security, with body searches, X-rays, background checks, eye-scans and finger-printing.

The defendants will sit facing the judges, who will be on a raised dais. The witness stand will have a curtain that can be drawn to protect identities and bullet-proof glass will keep journalists and observers from the body of the court.

Despite the preparations, sources close to the tribunal say proceedings are likely to be adjourned so judges can study defense motions.

International human rights groups have questioned the court, saying it could produce "victors' justice".

But Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari dismissed those concerns. "As the head of the executive branch, (I can say) we have not interfered in any way with the progress of the trial," he told a news conference. ."

The would-be assassins at Dujail were from Jaafari's Shi'ite Islamist Dawa party, then a clandestine opposition movement.

Constitutional Wrangle

Final results from Saturday's vote on a new constitution were not expected for days. But early counts indicate the charter passed despite high turnout in areas dominated by Sunni Arabs who have launched the insurgency against the government.

The Electoral Commission said on Monday it would audit "unusually high" results from provinces where 90 percent or more of ballots were either "Yes" or "No", leading some opponents to suggest fraud.

But Commission member Farid Ayar said on Tuesday lopsided turnouts were not unexpected in Iraq, where historic sectarian divisions have been exacerbated by months of bloody ethnic and communal bloodshed, polarising local results.

But one Sunni Arab leader said any evidence of fraud could lead to more violence as political groups prepare for parliamentary elections in December.

"If the referendum was corrupt, then we will boycott the December elections and there will be instability," Hussein al-Falluji, a Sunni who negotiated the charter, told Reuters.

[Source: By Luke Baker and Mariam Karouny, Reuters, Baghdad, 18Oct05]

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