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Iraqis angry, bored, humored by trial

Diversity of reactions prove the divides in Iraqi culture

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Volunteers of the al Sadr militia wave their guns as they celebrate the start of Saddam Hussein's trial at a cafe in Sadr city, Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday.

Volunteers of the al Sadr militia wave their guns as they celebrate the start of Saddam Hussein’s trial at a cafe in Sadr city, Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday.

Karim Kadim, Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — For some Iraqis it's justice at work. Others slam it as just another slap across their occupied nation's face. And to a few, it is pure entertainment.

Saddam Hussein's on-again, off-again trial has taken on an almost surreal character, and the range of public reaction highlights Iraq's deep divides.

The latest hiccup in a trial already marred by the killings of defense lawyers and courtroom brawls was Tuesday's failure to resume hearings after a one-month break. Disputes over replacements for the top two judges and absent witnesses were cited as the reasons the proceedings had to be put off until Sunday.

Many Iraqis have reacted predictably to the trial, which opened Oct. 19 but has had only seven sessions. Shiite Muslims and Kurds, severely oppressed during Saddam's reign, praised the court or demanded a swifter form of justice — execution.

"I am sure that God's will is all powerful and Saddam will get his punishment despite all these delays," said Shiite shop owner Najim Bilal al-Khafaji, 29, in the southern town of Najaf.

Another Najaf native, 37-year-old Shiite Abid Zain, described the trial as fair and urged Iraqis to be patient.

"Although Saddam and his regime were the toughest criminals in history, they are tried in such a democratic way that makes the people of the world respect the Iraqi people more than before," Zain said.

In Tikrit, Saddam's hometown north of Baghdad, die-hard supporters criticized the tribunal as a U.S.-orchestrated farce.

"This trial should be abandoned until a legitimate government is formed to ensure the trial's decisions are fair," said Tarek Jassim al-Amawy, a 68-year-old Sunni Muslim court employee.

But in a sign the country may slowly be leaving behind three decades of war, police-state rule and sanctions, some Iraqis from Saddam's Sunni support-base praised the trial as necessary and just.

Meanwhile, kidnappers of two German engineers seized their captives only two days after they arrived in Iraq, gaining access to their compound by pretending to be soldiers, police said Wednesday.

The two men arrived Sunday for a brief assignment at a government-owned detergent plant in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, German and Iraqi officials said.

Iraqi police initially reported the two were grabbed as they were driving to work Tuesday. But on Wednesday, two policemen — Lt. Arkan Ali and officer Salih al-Janabi — said the Germans were taken from their compound by armed men who gained access by pretending to be soldiers.

The military said Wednesday that a U.S. Marine was killed by small-arms fire the day before in Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad. That raised the number of U.S. military personnel killed since the war began in March 2003 to at least 2,236, according to an Associated Press count.

An Iraqi television journalist, Mahmoud Zaal, was killed Tuesday while filming fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents near the western city of Ramadi, said Thaer Ahmed, deputy director of Baghdad Television, the station where Zaal worked.

The circumstances of his death were not clear. The U.S. military said seven insurgents died in two separate clashes in Ramadi's city center.

About 60 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

An Iraqi television personality said she escaped kidnapping Tuesday by jumping from her second-floor balcony in Baghdad. Nagham Abdul-Zahra suffered multiple fractures but her husband was freed unharmed.