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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraqi Court's Video Shows a Subdued Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Iraqi court trying Saddam Hussein and his top aides released a videotape on Monday showing a subdued, contemplative and seemingly compliant Hussein being questioned Sunday about mass executions ordered after he had survived an assassination attempt in 1982.

The two-minute recording, without sound, appeared to show a strikingly different Hussein from the defiant figure whose only court appearance, last July, featured lengthy self-justifications and mockery for the judge, Raid Juhi. Then, after an anxious start when he appeared to fear he might be summarily shot, it was Hussein who dominated the court, with hectoring rebukes for Juhi for serving his "American masters" and for having the temerity to sit in judgment on the man who had appointed him a judge.

But in the video excerpt it is the judge, Juhi, who appears to set the tone. Hussein is shown responding quietly, after careful thought, and glancing sideways at one point to his Iraqi lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, as if for reassurance.

An Iraqi official who was at the three-hour hearing on Sunday, held in a secret location near the Baghdad airport, said Hussein was restrained and polite throughout, after a stricture from the judge to answer succinctly and not to digress into politics.

In an interview last month with an Arabic newspaper in London, Juhi said Hussein, who has been kept in solitary confinement by the U.S. military since his capture in December 2003, had "suffered a collapse in morale because he understands the extent of the charges against him." Dulaimi later denied that claim.

Whatever the cause for Hussein's change, the video showed him shorn of the scornfulness of last July.

Officials said the questioning on Sunday focused on the executions of 143 men in Dujail, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad. The killings were ordered after an assassination attempt against Hussein there in 1982. Tribunal officials said Hussein was one of several men summoned Sunday for questioning about the killings, along with two of his half brothers and Taha Yassin Ramadan, one of his former vice presidents.

While listening patiently to Juhi's questions, Hussein cocked his head pensively to one side, stroked his beard, cupped his hand over his mouth, and looked alternately reflective, disconsolate and resigned.

What was relatively unchanged was his physical appearance. As in July, he seemed shrunken since the days when aides cowered before him in his palaces -- at least 10 kilograms lighter, his face tightly drawn, deep pouches beneath his eyes, his beard flecked with white, but his hair still black from the hair dye Iraqi officials have said is one of the few luxuries permitted him in jail.

There are new indications of behind-the-scenes strains at the Iraqi Special Tribunal. The U.S. officials who help guide the tribunal have shown unease over statements by senior Iraqi officials that Hussein will be put on trial within the next two or three months, and they have cautioned against a trial without the necessary legal groundwork.

On Monday, an official who has been briefed on the court's workings sought to discourage expectations of an early trial, insisting in an e-mail that there had been no decision yet on the timing of the proceedings and that Hussein had not yet been formally accused in the Dujail killings.

Senior Iraqi officials within the tribunal have said Hussein would be added to five defendants already charged in the Dujail killings, for a trial, the tribunal's first, that would start in late summer or early fall. Under Iraq's legal system, the kind of questioning shown on the videotape is required before the judge decides whether there is a case to take to trial.

A second tribunal video released Monday showed other top officials from the Hussein era being questioned about other mass killings for which Hussein is likely to face trial, including the use of poison gas on scores of Kurdish villages in the late 1980s and the suppression of a Shiite rebellion in 1991 in which an estimated 150,000 men were shot and dumped into mass graves.

Further stresses within the tribunal appeared unavoidable on Monday after Ahmad Chalabi, a deputy prime minister, told Al Arabiya television that the government was preparing legislation to re-cast the tribunal as a solely Iraqi court. At present, the tribunal's legal authority stems from a decree passed last year by the U.S. occupation authority.

Critics of the tribunal, including Hussein's defense lawyers, have cited this, among other reasons, as grounds for questioning the tribunal's basis in law.

 A bomb exploded outside a bank in the northern city of Kirkuk on Tuesday, killing 19 people, while five Iraqi soldiers died in a suicide attack north of Baghdad, the AP reported.

The bodies of 24 men, the victims of two ambushes, were found in western Iraq, and were brought to a hospital, a hospital morgue official said Tuesday.