Iraq’s former dictator could face as many as a dozen trials. The first – the only one at present – is in many ways the simplest, and is expected to see Saddam charged with the premeditated murder, torture and forced expulsion and disappearance of the residents of one Shia Muslim town. These all fall under the category of crimes against humanity in international law.
The trial centres on the purging of Dujail after rebels there made an attempt to assassinate Saddam in 1982. Prosecutors are expected to set out how the former Iraqi president subsequently sent his security forces to punish the town, imprisoning and torturing residents before finally executing 143 of them at the Abu Ghraib jail. Documents discovered in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion are claimed to link Saddam directly to the killings, making it easier to prosecute than some higher-profile incidents where the chain of command is harder to demonstrate.
Iraqi judges are now considering putting Saddam in the dock charged with genocide for gassing the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988. Other episodes being examined include the massacre of Shia Muslims after their 1991 revolt, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. It is difficult to prove genocide in court; it took the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal sitting in the Hague seven years to secure its first genocide conviction.
The Iraqi higher criminal court, which was formerly known as the Iraqi special tribunal (the name some still call it). It was set up under the US-UK occupation by the Iraqi governing council with a remit to prosecute the crimes of the 1968-2003 Ba’athist regime, both in Iraq and by Iraqis in neighbouring countries. The Iraqi national assembly recently voted to change the court’s name and some of its practices in order to bring into more into line with the rest of the country’s judicial system.