The Iraqi government announced Sunday that the trial of Saddam Hussein (search) will open on Oct. 19.

The statement by government spokesman Laith Kubba (search) confirmed widespread speculation that the former strongman and several of his closest aides would face trial immediately after the national referendum on Iraq's constitution on Oct. 15.

Government officials have said authorities wanted the trial to start soon after the constitutional vote. But Western diplomats expressed skepticism that the case would be fully prepared by then.

"The first session for the trial will begin on Oct. 19," Kubba told reporters. He said seven co-defendants from the former regime would face trial with him.

They will be charged with responsibility for the 1982 massacre of 143 Shiites in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt. If found guilty, Saddam could receive the death penalty.

Saddam's Iraqi lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi (search), could not immediately be reached for comment.

Saddam's co-defendants include Barazan Ibrahim, intelligence chief at the time and Saddam's half brother; former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan; and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, at the time a Baath party official in Dujail.

U.S. officials scrapped the death penalty in 2003, but Iraqi authorities reinstated it after the transfer of sovereignty so they would have the option of executing Saddam if he is convicted of crimes committed during his regime.