BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein (search) could be executed after his first trial if he is convicted and sentenced to death for his alleged role in a 1982 Shiite massacre, even though he faces other charges, an official close to the proceedings said Thursday.
The first trial, which involves the deposed Iraqi ruler's alleged role in the 1982 massacre of an estimated 150 Shiites in Dujail (search), north of Baghdad, is expected to begin by the fall, said the official. He briefed reporters on condition that his name would not be used for reasons of security and the sensitivity of the case.
Saddam's daughter, meanwhile, has threatened that the ousted leader's defense lawyer could boycott the trial — and preliminary questioning — unless the defense gets better access to Saddam. The defense has complained in the past that it has only been allowed to meet Saddam with U.S. or Iraqi military officials watching.
Iraqi authorities also are building about a dozen other cases against Saddam that they intend to try separately. Those cases include the killing of rival politicians over 30 years, the 1987-88 Anfal campaign that left tens of thousands of Kurds dead or displaced and the crushing of a 1991 uprising by Shiites following the Gulf War (search).
If Saddam is sentenced to death in the Dujail case, authorities could "theoretically" carry out the sentence without waiting for the other trials to begin, the official said.
"If the sentence were to be the death penalty, I think that the court will have to make a decision based on international principles, Iraqi law, whether or not there is need for him in another case for the prosecution or another defendant," the official said.
"It's possible but it's going depend on the circumstances when it happens, what other cases are going on," he added.
A five-judge panel was expected to set a date for the Dujail trial "within the next few weeks," he said, pledging the proceedings will be fair and transparent.
If the court is allowed to work without political interference, "you can expect to see trials that are transparent, that are fair, that are up to international standards that are in compliance with international law," the official said.
Saddam, who ruled Iraq for 23 years with an iron fist, has been in U.S. custody since he was captured in December 2003 near his hometown of Tikrit. Saddam, 68, was removed from power in April 2003 by a U.S.-led invasion.
His daughter, Raghad, has been running his defense team from Jordan, where she fled after her father's fall. Earlier this week, she fired the entire team except for one Iraqi lawyer, Khalil Dulaimi, because the team of more than 1,500 Arab and Western lawyers only sought fame in the high-profile case.
She threatened that Saddam's lawyer would boycot upcoming proceedings — including the trial — unless the defense is allowed to meet privately with Saddam.
"Our defense will boycott all the procedures of interrogation and prosecution until the President is allowed to have the legal advice he is entitled to," she wrote in a letter to the Iraqi Special Tribunal, a copy of which was made available to The Associated Press in Amman, Jordan.
She had not yet sent the letter and there was no word on when she intended to send it. Dulaimi could not immediately be reached for comment.
"Your masters who occupy Iraq have denied the President the rights he is entitled to according to the laws of war and to the Geneva Conventions, which provide him the right to choose a legal counsel of his own free choice, along with the right of such defense lawyers to have full access and in privacy to him as they deem necessary," she said in the letter.
Raghad disputed the legitimacy of the tribunal, saying it was "totally illegal and all its (decisions) are deemed null and void."