Opponents of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein looking forward to his being tried for crimes against humanity will be disappointed by Sunday's filing of a criminal case against him. Saddam's alleged role in the 1982 massacre of more than 150 Shiite Muslims in the village of Dujail will be the subject of a trial that could take place in September.
While the chemical weapons attack that killed an estimated 5,000 ethnic Kurds in the northern town of Halabja in 1988, and the brutal suppression of a revolt by Shiites after the 1991 Persian Gulf War received worldwide publicity and became the justification for Saddam's ouster in 2003, they would have been more difficult to link to the Butcher of Baghdad than the massacre in Dujail.
It would have been politically expedient for Iraq's special tribunal investigating crimes committed during Saddam's presidency from 1979 to 2003 to charge him with all dozen or so atrocities committed during his brutal governance, but they would have been difficult to prove.
On the other hand, the 1982 massacre in Dujail, a Shiite Muslim village, can be directly tied to Saddam. On July 8, 1982, he was the target of an assassination attempt as his motorcade passed through the village. The ambush was organized by the Dawa party -- a Shiite political group whose members include Iraq's current prime minister, Ibrahim Jafari -- and involved gunmen concealed in a palm grove. They fired on the passing motorcade, but failed to hit their target.
Torture and execution
Within hours, army helicopters were conducting airstrikes on Dujail and soldiers were rounding up villagers. Hundreds were imprisoned, and many of them were tortured or executed.
There are three co-defendants who allegedly orchestrated the massacre: Barzan Tikriti, Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief; Taha Yassin Ramadan, former vice president; and Awad Haman Bander Sadun, former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court that sentenced 143 men from Dujail to death.
Given that Saddam, who has been in U.S. custody since December 2003, remains a rallying point for insurgents who are continuing their campaign of death and destruction in Iraq, bringing him to trial is of utmost importance and urgency.
Like Saddam, many of the insurgents are Sunni Muslims who once belonged to the Baath Party. It was the party that was in power in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 even though Sunnis are in the minority. The majority Shiites now dominate the government in the fledgling democracy.
The Butcher of Baghdad must be exposed for the moral degenerate that he is, which a public trial will do. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.
Saddam could be named as a defendant in subsequent cases, but prosecutors should focus on getting a guilty verdict in the Dujail massacre. It would demonstrate that he is not infallible and that, in the end, he was nothing more than a murderous despot.