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Saddam defiant as he awaits trial


- Reuters

(Tuesday, December 21, 2004)

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"If my commitment to my principles was 90 per cent before the US invasion then after what happened to me itís 100 per cent firm," Khasawneh quoted Saddam as saying.


Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appealed to Iraqis from his prison cell to unite against what he called US efforts to sow sectarian divisions, his lawyers said yesterday.

Ziad Khasawneh, a Jordanian lawyer and spokesman for Saddamís defence team, told reporters: "President Saddam Hussein urged the unity of his Iraqi people, regardless of their religious and ethnic creed, to confront US plans to divide their country on sectarian grounds."

Saddam relayed his messages through Khalil Dulaimi, an Iraqi lawyer and member of the defence counsel who met the ousted leader for more than four hours on Thursday - Saddamís first access to lawyers since he was arrested a year ago.

Dulaimiís identity was until Sunday kept secret by Saddamís Amman-based legal team for fears over his life after he escaped an assassination attempt two weeks ago, defence lawyers said.

Saddam, who is denied access to news, was eager to know what had happened in Iraq since his captivity, Khasawneh said.

Saddam said Iraqis had to be cautious after Dulaimi told him US-backed elections would take place next month, said Lebanese lawyer Bushra al-Khalil, who is on the defence team.

But the former strongman was as defiant as ever and high-spirited in captivity, his lawyers said.

"If my commitment to my principles was 90 per cent before the US invasion then after what happened to me itís 100 per cent firm," Khasawneh quoted Saddam as saying.

Saddam sent a plea to Iraqís men of religion from all persuasions to "shoulder a historic responsibility" in rallying people in Iraqís difficult times, the lawyers said.

War crimes trials against Saddam Hussein and his closest lieutenants moved forward when his feared cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid and a former defence minister were questioned by an investigating judge on Saturday.

Iraqís US-backed government had promised trials would begin before next monthís election, the first free vote since Saddam rose to power three decades ago. Saddam himself is expected to be among the last to face trial.

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