Saddam Trial Verdict
BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. and Iraqi forces set up extra checkpoints, boosted patrols, blocked traffic across a main Baghdad bridge and ordered a 12-hour curfew in four provinces on Saturday, one day before the expected announcement of a verdict — and possible death sentence — in the trial of former leader Saddam Hussein.
The 12-hour curfew covers both vehicles and pedestrians and will run from 6 a.m. Sunday to 6 p.m., said a close aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and an Interior Ministry general. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Beyond Baghdad, the curfew will apply to Salahuddin province, which includes Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, and the Sunni insurgent hotbeds of Diyala and Anbar provinces.
Leave for all military personnel has been canceled indefinitely and vacationing soldiers recalled to active duty. New checkpoints also sprang up around main roads, including within the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses Iraqi government offices and the U.S. and British embassies.
Larger than usual numbers of policemen and U.S. troops patrolled city streets, while U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles blocked traffic on both sides of the al-Jumhuriyah Bridge, one of the capital's most heavily guarded because it carries traffic past the Green Zone.
"We received orders to tighten security measures and to use any available policemen to tighten the security," police Lt. Ali Abbas said.
Any violence would be met with a stern response, said a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which commands the police. He refused to reveal any details about additional security measures.
"We warn anyone who intends to exploit this event that our response will be tough and severe," police Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf told The Associated Press without elaborating.
Violence has already been running high in recent days, with police finding the bodies of 87 torture victims throughout the capital between 6 a.m. Thursday and 6 p.m. Friday.
The announcement of a verdict is expected to set off further bloodshed, underscoring the trial's failure to bring reconciliation to a country fractured ever deeper along sectarian lines.
Many of Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs, along with some Shiites and Kurds, are predicting a firestorm if the ex-president is sentenced to death. On the other hand, majority Shiites, who were persecuted under Saddam but now dominate the government, are likely to be enraged if he escapes the gallows.
Setting the tone, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, said late last month that he expects "this criminal tyrant will be executed." That, he said, would help break the will of Saddam followers in the largely Sunni Arab-led insurgency against U.S. forces and their Iraqi government allies.
Saddam and seven co-defendants — including a half brother — have been on trial since Oct. 19, 2005, for their alleged roles in the deaths of about 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt against the president in 1982.
A second trial against Saddam — for alleged genocide against the Kurds — began in August and more charges are expected to follow. It is unclear whether those cases would move forward if Saddam is condemned to hang.
On Wednesday, one of Saddam's lawyers said a death sentence would "open the gates of hell" to the roughly 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Bushra al-Khalil, a Lebanese lawyer who was thrown out of Saddam's trial in May, also accused President Bush of exploiting the verdict — which comes two days before hotly contested U.S. Congressional elections — for "electoral purposes."
In a letter addressed to the presiding judge, Saddam's 10-member defense team, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, wrote that it would be premature to deliver the verdict on Sunday "because the court did not receive the final defense statements yet." It was not possible to confirm that the judges had received the letter.
Signaling concern over signs of tension in relations between al-Maliki and Washington, a top Bush administration official met with the Iraqi prime minister for the second time this week on Friday.
National Intelligence Director John Negroponte's talks with al-Maliki were believed to have included discussion of the prime minister's demands for a speedier transfer of power to his military.
Al-Maliki has complained bitterly about recent U.S.-Iraqi operations, under the direction of U.S. officers, saying they were bringing undue hardship on the Iraqi people and implying that they undermined his authority.
On Tuesday, an American blockade of Sadr City, the capital's sprawling Shiite slum, and the central Karradah district were lifted following a demand from al-Maliki. The Americans imposed the blockades the week before in their search for a kidnapped U.S. soldier.
Al-Maliki and a major political backer, radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia runs Sadr City, charged the U.S. with collectively punishing the people of the two districts.
Seeking to shore up his standing at home, the prime minister said at one point that he was a friend of the United States but "not America's man in Iraq."
Negroponte arrived just four days after National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley paid an unannounced visit to the Baghdad, saying he had come "to reinforce some of the things you have heard from our president."
The Iraqi government said the intelligence boss had reassured al-Maliki of Bush's continued backing.
The two top U.S. officials came to the Iraqi capital in close succession after a video conference Oct. 28 during which Bush and al-Maliki agreed to set up a five-member committee to coordinate military and political matters.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has provided no details about either of the U.S. official's visits, saying they were not announced in advance for security reasons.
Iraqi security forces continued to be targeted on Friday, with one policeman killed and five others wounded by a roadside bomb targeting a police convoy along the highway near Latifiya, 25 miles south of Baghdad, police Maj. Muthanna Khalid said.
The body of murdered police Colonel Thayer Jasib of the 10th Iraqi army division was also discovered yesterday in a marsh between the southern cities of Basra and Amarah. Jasib, whose unit had battled Mahdi Army forces in Amarah last month, had been kidnapped Oct. 28
It wasn't clear whether he was included among the 87 bodies recovered Friday, all of whom were dressed in civilian clothes and had been bound at the wrists and ankles. They showed signs of torture, a common practice among religious extremists who seize victims from private homes or from cars and buses traveling the capital's dangerous streets.
Such slayings are rarely solved.