Saddam Hussein trial to begin Oct. 19

Iraqi authorities have set Oct. 19 as the date for the start of the trial of Saddam Hussein, an official said. The official, who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to make the formal announcement, said authorities wanted the trial to start soon after Iraqis finish the referendum on the new constitution Oct. 15.

Many Sunni Arabs oppose the constitution, and a trial of the former dictator, a Sunni, could further worsen sectarian relations. The official said Saddam's legal team was being informed of the date. However, Saddam's Iraqi lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, could not be reached because his mobile phone was shut off.

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of commenting on a foreign judicial system's plans, said he doubted the trial would start on that date. On Thursday, another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision had been taken to start the trial between Oct. 15 and 20.

Saddam and three co-defendants will stand trial for the 1982 massacre of Shiites in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination. Saddam could receive the death penalty. Other co-defendants in the case are Barazan Ibrahim, intelligence chief at the time and Saddam's half brother; former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan; and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, at the time a Baath party official in Dujail. Saddam is expected to face about a dozen trials for alleged crimes committed by his regime, including the gassing of Kurds in Halabja and the 1991 suppression of a Shiite uprising in the south, AP reports.

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