The first trial will be for one of the “smaller” crimes: a massacre in the small city of Dujail, about 35 miles north of Baghdad. It was in this town that a handful of Iraqis attempted to assassinate Saddam in 1982 as his motorcade was passing through. The regime’s response was the razing of the entire city and collective punishment that resulted in the deaths of 150 locals.
Why start with the relatively unknown Dujail massacre, rather than Halabjah or the mass graves? The view of U.S. government officials was that Saddam’s biggest crimes should be spotlighted at the beginning of the process, when international attention will likely be at its peak. But that view did not prevail. The Iraqi Special Tribunal elected to start with the case that is air-tight and easiest to prosecute. As Iraqi Tribunal officials see it, the momentum for the trials would be blunted if Saddam got off on a technicality on the first trial. Furthermore, the Iraqi prosecutors anticipate Saddam will borrow some rhetorical and theatrical tricks from Slobodan Milosevic. Indeed, Saddam has studied his performance at the Hague. So the Iraqi Tribunal believes it’s better to let him exhaust these tactics on the smallest trial, before he has to answer for chemical attacks and mass graves.