BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein could be executed before the Iraqi Special Tribunal finishes charging him with all his alleged crimes, a source close to the tribunal said Sunday.
For members of some groups allegedly abused by Saddam, the possibility that he'd not face their allegations drew mixed feelings.
His first trial, along with seven co-defendants, is set to begin Oct. 19. It will weigh charges that they massacred 143 people in Dujail, a predominantly Shiite town north of Baghdad, in 1982 after a failed assassination attempt. If convicted, Saddam could be sentenced to death.
On Sunday, officials began releasing more details of how the court will operate. Instead of a jury, a five-judge panel will hear the case and one will be the presiding judge. The defendants will be charged together, unlike in U.S. courts.
Each defendant will have his own attorney, an official close to the tribunal explained, and the judges may reach a different verdict for each. The official asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly for the tribunal.
Once the court is finished with the first case, Saddam will likely face another trial for allegedly committing similar crimes in other communities, mostly Shiite Muslim and Kurdish areas, the official said. Saddam is a Sunni Muslim, the minority sect predominant in Iraq during his dictatorship.
If he is sentenced to death in the Dujail case, he will also begin his appeals process, the official said. Should he lose his appeal, he'd be executed 30 days later.
That could occur, the official continued, "before all the cases have been decided."
On the first day of the trial, the court will likely inform the defense council on how the court will work, read the charges to the defendants, hear from the defendants and address other court matters, according to the official.
But "I don't think you are going to see them enter a plea," the official said.
The official could not say how long the trial might last.
So far, the Iraqi public has heard little about the case other than pleas by Saddam's lawyer for more time. In an interview last month with Knight Ridder, Saddam's lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said the proceedings would be "a political trial and not a legal trial."
Reactions were mixed among Kurdish and Shiite National Assembly members Sunday to the possibility that Saddam might be executed for just one of what they say were hundreds of brutal acts.
"We want Saddam to be tried for each case. However, we want the procedures to be quick," said Baha Araji, a Shiite assemblyman said. "We want them to carry out the capital punishment as soon as possible."
But Kurdish member Abdul Khaliq Zangana disagreed, saying: "We want him to be tried for all these crimes and not only for Dujail. We do not want him to be tried for one and let off for others.
The court rules are based on a statute written while the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority led the country. Officials handed the procedures to an Iraqi-led government in June 2004.
© 2005 Knight Ridder