Image: Tariq Aziz.
Marco Di Lauro  /  Pool via AP
Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, testifies for the defence during former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's trial held in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, on Wednesday.
updated 5/24/2006 6:51:28 AM ET 2006-05-24T10:51:28

Tariq Aziz, once a close member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle, testified as a defense witness in the trial of the former Iraqi leader Wednesday, saying the regime had to strike back with a crackdown on a Shiite town after a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam.

The 70-year-old Aziz, a former foreign minister and deputy prime minister, sat on the stand wearing checkered pajamas and looked pale. Aziz, who is in U.S. custody, has complained of health problems and his family has been pressing for him to be let out temporarily for medical treatment.

Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman opened the session with a sharp warning to the defense lawyers and the eight defendants that he would not allow insults to the court. In the previous session, Abdel-Rahman threw out a woman defense lawyer when she tried to speak after he warned he not to.

"From the beginning, we have said that this court is a transparent one and the defense team and defendants are allowed to express their attitude in a democratic way. No one is allowed, who whoever he is and under any name, to attack the court, its employees and Iraqi people." he said.

Abdel-Rahman has shown increasing frustration with the defendants' constant accusations that the court was formed by Americans and is illegitimate. The lawyer he ejected, Bushra al-Khalil, has made that argument in past sessions, though she didn't on Monday when she was forced out.

'I'll throw you out'
The judge's comments sparked an argument with Saddam and his top co-defendant, Barzan Ibrahim, former head of the Mukhabarat intelligence agency, who stood and chided Abdel-Rahman for being too harsh.

"Your honor, you are before a big case, and we all have to control ourselves and deal with each other in a calm way. You insulted a woman last time," he said.

"Sit down. If you continue with this I'll throw you out," Abdel-Rahmamn shouted. At first Ibrahim tried to argue with him, but a guard entered the defendants' pen, and Ibrahim sat down.

"Do you want to shut people's mouth this way?" Saddam spoke up from him seat.

"Quiet. You are a defendant," Abdel-Rahman yelled.

"I am Saddam Hussein, your president, and you did elect me," Saddam shouted back.

Saddam and seven former members of his regime are on trial for alleged crimes against humanity in a crackdown launched on the Shiite town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam. Hundreds of Shiite men, women and children were arrested, some allegedly tortured to death, and 148 were sentenced to death for the shooting attack on Saddam.

Aziz defends actions
Aziz, who was deputy prime minister at the time of the events in Dujail and has been jailed since he surrendered to U.S. forces in April 2003, insisted that Ibrahim did not have any role in the Dujail crackdown.

"Barzan and other Mukahabarat employees had nothing with Dujail case. Barzan didn't take over Dujail's case at all," he said, speaking in a hoarse voice.

He said the arrests were in response to the assassination attempt, which was carried out by the Shiite Dawa Party. "If the head of state comes under attack, the state is required by law to take action. If the suspects are caught with weapons, it's only natural they should be arrested and put on trial," he said.

He said the Dujail attack was "part of a series of attacks and assassination attempts by this group, including against me."

He said that in 1980, Dawa Party activists threw a grenade at him as he visited a Baghdad university, killing civilians around him.

"I'm a victim of a criminal act conducted by this party, which is in power right now. So put it on trial. Its leader was the prime minister and his deputy is the prime minister right now and they killed innocent Iraqis in 1980," he said.

The Dawa Party is now a party in the Shiite coalition that dominates the Iraqi government. The party's leader, Ibrahim al-Jaafari was prime minister until this month, when another leader Dawa Party figure, Nouri al-Maliki, formed a new government.

"Saddam is my colleague and comrade for decades, and Barzan is my brother and my friend and he is not responsible about Dujail's events," Aziz said.

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