Aide told Saddam he would move against suspects in town of Dujail

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A top aide allegedly told Saddam Hussein he intended to “change the social reality” in a Shiite town where the former Iraqi president came under attack, according to a tape prosecutors played in court Monday.

Prosecutors identified Taha Yassin Ramadan _ a co-defendant in Saddam’s trial _ as the man who said on the tape that “suspicious elements” in Dujail would be moved out and “replacements” brought in. On the tape, a voice said to be Saddam’s replied, “Fine.”

The tape was played Monday in the trial of Saddam and seven co-defendants in a crackdown launched in Dujail after Saddam’s motorcade was shot at in July 1982. Hundreds were arrested in the sweep, some were allegedly tortured, and 148 were killed or put to death.

One defendant, Barzan Ibrahim, denounced the tape as a fake, and the defense stepped up its attempts to cast doubt on documents prosecutors have presented in an attempt to show the roles Saddam and his co-defendants played in the crackdown on Dujail.

Defense lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi demanded prosecutors give more detail on how the documents _ including memos from Saddam’s office and Ibrahim’s intelligence agency _ were obtained, and repeated that international handwriting experts should check the signatures.

Iraqi experts authenticated the signatures in previous court sessions.

But on Monday, a report by the Iraqi experts questioned signatures purported to be those of one defendant, Mizhar Abdullah Ruwayyid.

The prosecution had said Ruwayyid, a Baath Party official in Dujail, sent a letter to the Interior Ministry informing on Dujail families after the ambush on Saddam’s motorcade.

The experts said the handwriting on the letter did not match samples given by Ruwayyid. Ruwayyid has insisted the letter is a forgery; other defendants also have maintained documents are fakes.

After a 90-minute session, chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman adjourned the trial until May 15. The defense is expected to start presenting its case soon, and on Monday gave the judge an eight-page list of prospective witnesses.

Prosecutors said they obtained the audiotape Sunday. They said it was of a 1986 phone conversation between Saddam and Ramadan, then a member of the Revolutionary Command Council.

The speaker identified as Ramadan did not elaborate on his intentions about making changes in Dujail.

In other cases, Saddam’s regime was known to encourage Sunni loyalists to move to areas with Shiite or Kurdish populations. However, hundreds of Shiites who were arrested in Dujail were released years later and returned to the town, which remains overwhelmingly Shiite.

With the tape, prosecutors appeared to be aiming to show Saddam was closely involved in the crackdown in Dujail _ and that his regime went far beyond a simple search for those who carried out the attack.

In the tape, the man identified as Ramadan said the leveling of farms and palm groves in Dujail, carried out as retaliation for the attack, had been nearly completed and that the owners would be compensated.

“We will move out the suspicious elements and bring in replacements, meaning we will attempt an operation of changing society, we will greatly change the social reality,” he said.

The man identified as Saddam responds, “Fine, good night,” and the audiotape ends.

Ibrahim, Saddam’s half brother and former intelligence chief, disputed the tape and the documents.

“Where are you getting these documents? Whose hands are behind them?” Ibrahim said.

“Forging documents and imitating signatures is an age-old phenomenon,” he said. “There have been big strides in forging documents and CDs. … I can bring anyone with any knowledge of a computer and do the same thing in front of you.”

The defense has insisted the regime’s actions were a legal response to the assassination attempt. The prosecution argues 148 people were sentenced to death in a show trial in which they could make no defense.

“We didn’t kill them. The court sentenced them to death. There is a huge difference between killing and transferring the defendants to the court,” Ibrahim said. “They carried out an operation, an attempt on the president’s life.”

“We are not killers and you know that,” he said. “We are patriotic Iraqis who serve our people and country.”

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