BAGHDAD, Iraq – A verdict against Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants charged with crimes against humanity in connection with an anti-Shiite crackdown in the 1980s will be announced Nov. 5, a senior court official said Monday. Sentences for those found guilty will be issued the same day, he said.
The announcement about the verdict came as an Iraqi official said the brother of the chief prosecutor in Saddam's second genocide trial was shot to death on Monday.
Al-Faroon's brother is chief prosecutor Muqith al-Faroon, who is leading the Saddam prosecution on charges of crimes against humanity in the deaths of thousands of Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war.
Saddam could be hanged if convicted over the deaths of nearly 150 Shiites from the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt on the Iraqi leader. However, he could appeal the sentence to a higher, nine-judge court.
Saddam, meanwhile, told Iraqis in an open, three-page letter that Iraq's "liberation is at hand" and called on Sunni insurgents to show mercy to their enemies. He also urged Iraqis to set aside sectarian and ethnic divisions and instead focus on driving U.S. forces out of Iraq.
The letter, a text of which was obtained by The Associated Press in Amman, Jordan, appeared designed to cast the former president in the role of a nationalist leader who could reconcile and rebuild a nation now beset by rising sectarian violence, an enduring insurgency and deepening economic woes. The letter also appears to reflect Saddam's belief that the tide may be turning against the Americans in Iraq and the Shiite-dominated government they support.
"The hour of liberation is at hand, God willing, but remember that your near-term goal is confined to freeing your country from the forces of occupation and their followers and not be preoccupied with settling scores or deviate from your goal," Saddam said.
Saddam's co-defendants in the Dujail trial include his former deputy, Taha Yassin Ramadan, and his half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim.
"The Dujail trial will resume Nov. 5 when the presiding judge will announce the verdict and the sentencing," Juhi, the investigating judge, said.
In the second genocide trial, Saddam is the chief defendant, facing genocide charges in connection with a government crackdown in the 1980s against Iraqi Kurds. The prosecution alleges about 180,000 people died in that campaign.
Saddam's chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said the former president dictated the letter to him during a four-hour meeting in a Baghdad detention facility Saturday. The meeting was also attended by other Saddam lawyers, including former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, he said.
Iraqis, said Saddam, were "living the most difficult period in history because of the occupation, killing, destruction and looting." Echoing fears among some Iraqis over the breakup of the country, Saddam appealed for unity.
He called on Iraq's Sunni Arabs to forgive their enemies, including informants who aided U.S. forces hunt down and kill his two sons — Odai and Qussai, three year ago in the northern city of Mosul.
"When you achieve victory, remember you are God's soldiers and therefore, you must show genuine forgiveness and put aside revenge over the spilled blood of your sons and brothers, including the sons of Saddam Hussein," he wrote.
"I call on you to be forgiving rather than being rough with those who lost the right path."
He warned his supporters that using excessive force against opponents of the insurgency would only culminate in wavering popular support for the anti-U.S. resistance.
Saddam, who ruled Iraq with an iron fist for 23 years ending with his ouster in 2003, remains popular among hardcore remnants of his now-disbanded Baath party and small pockets of the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority of which he is a member.
On Sunday, 35 Sunni Arab tribal leaders from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk called for Saddam's release in a meeting in which portraits of the former leader were hoisted along with banners declaring allegiance to him.
Iraq's Kurds say Kirkuk is a Kurdish city and want to annex it to their autonomous region in northern Iraq. The city's Turkomen and Arab communities reject that claim and a referendum is scheduled to be held next year to decide the fate of the city. Saddam settled thousands of Arabs in Kirkuk as part of what is known as his "Arabization" policy.
One of the tribal chiefs who took part in the Sunday meeting was sheik Abdul-Rahman Monsheid al-Obeidi.
"The release of Saddam Hussein and his comrades will solve the Iraqi crisis," he told reporters. "It will ensure the success of the national reconciliation the government is talking about."