By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/14/2005 6:12:34 PM ET 2005-10-14T22:12:34
ANALYSIS

BAGHDAD, Iraq — So it looks like Saddam is going to try to turn this trial into a soapbox to denounce the war and the U.S. administration, play on Iraqi fears of Iran and a civil war, and talk about everything except the crimes he is accused of committing.

Saddam's lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, told NBC News that Saddam plans to address the Iraqi court himself on the first day of his trial, set to begin Wednesday, on charges of crimes against humanity.

“We will certainly see him exercise his right to defend himself. … He will speak and question the court's legitimacy," Dulaimi said on a crackling satellite phone. Dulaimi fears for his safety and keeps his whereabouts and movements secret. Even getting him on the telephone is fairly difficult and rare.

The court trying Saddam has long said it will try to prevent him from turning the trial into a platform for himself, so there is sure to be some conflict in the courtroom.

Appeal to Americans
Dulaimi also delivered an appeal from Saddam to the American people and, interestingly, said that his client and the Baath party are offering to have "good relations with America"  and "defend her interests."

Saddam may be trying to offer a truce on behalf of the Baath party, now led insurgents in Iraq. It seems he wants to act as a mediator, using his influence (now mainly symbolic) over militant groups in Iraq — since this is one of the few cards he holds. His message through Dulaimi also recalls the days when Saddam served U.S. interests by fighting Washington and Iraq's common enemy: Iran.

Dulaimi, speaking in Arabic, quoted the message  he received two days ago  from Saddam in prison as follows:

"Americans should defend right against wrong … and defend America's national interests. The American people are the friends of the Iraqi people and there are no problems between the two of them.

“But the American government made a mistake by invading Iraq, which it should correct by withdrawing and returning it to its legitimate leader. This is the only way for America to pull itself out of the quagmire of Iraq.

“America discovered that it made a big mistake. There were no weapons of mass destruction and no al-Qaida in Iraq.  

“The Baath Party and Saddam Hussein want to have good relations with America and defend her interests. .. But a government that is allied with Iran is a danger to America's interests and to the gulf states."

Jailed ex-leader in ‘good spirits’
Dulaimi said Saddam is in good sprits and spends his time in prison fasting, reading, praying and writing poems.

He said he has asked the court for trial delays three times, but all have been refused.

Dulaimi also opposes the court for "not allowing foreign or Arab" lawyers to defend Saddam in the courtroom. "This is a big case and it requires the help of specialists which are not present in Iraq," he said.

Dulaimi warned that there will be "civil war" in Iraq if Saddam Hussein is convicted. "President Saddam Hussein was the only one who could rule this country," he said.

Prosecutors have not announced the exact charges, but investigating Judge Raid Juhi told reporters in Baghdad on Thursday that the prosecution would focus on “crimes of premeditated murder, forced expulsion of residents, torture and forced disappearances of individuals” for a 1982 massacre of Shiites.

The ousted Iraqi leader could receive the death penalty if convicted.

Richard Engel is an NBC News correspondent based in Baghdad.

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