Iraqis gathered around televisions to watch Saddam Hussein's trial Wednesday, with Shiite victims of his regime calling it long-overdue justice but some Sunni Arabs condemning it as unfair humiliation of their former leader. In Kazimiyah, a northern Baghdad suburb, construction worker Salman Zaboun Shanan, 53, took the day off from work Wednesday to watch Al-Arabiya TV, a Dubai-based satellite channel, which showed the trial from the capital's highly fortified Green Zone with a 20-minute delay.
During Saddam's regime, seven members of Shanan's nine-member family were imprisoned because of their links to the Najaf Hawza, the Shiites' religious leadership.
"Today is a landmark," Shanan said in an interview at his home. "Saddam's trial is a response to what we suffered in his prison and what the dictators and Baathists did to us."
Shanan said he hopes Saddam is convicted and "executed and that anyone who suffered can take a piece from his flesh." He, his wife and two of his sons watched the trial from their small living room, which contained a picture of the late Shiite Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, who was killed by Saddam's regime in 1999.
On Wednesday, nearly two years after Saddam was dragged from his hiding place in an underground bunker in his hometown of Tikrit, the former leader was finally brought to trial in an Iraqi court in Baghdad to answer for the crimes he allegedly inflicted on his fellow Iraqis.
Saddam and his seven co-defendants, top officials and lower civil servants from his Baathist regime, were charged with ordering the killing in 1982 of nearly 150 people in the mainly Shiite village of Dujail north of Baghdad after a failed attempt on the former dictator's life. If convicted, the men face the death penalty, by hanging.
While many Shiites and Kurds saw the trial as a moment of triumph for Saddam's victims, some Iraqis and international observers were questioning the fairness of the court, which was set up by an interim Iraq government controlled by Shiites and Kurds, the AP says.
That distrust was clear Wednesday in the reaction of engineer Sahab Awad Maaruf, a resident of Baghdad's Sunni neighborhood, Azamiyah, and the general secretary of its district council.
"All the people will be watching, although there won't be action by anyone, even those who were loyal to Saddam. They will just watch," he said.
"Saddam is the lesser of evils," Maaruf said, comparing the former dictator to Iraq's current government. "He's the only legitimate leader for Iraqis."
Maaruf said the prosecution will be seen by Sunnis as a show trial by an Iraqi government trying to distract attention from the fact that it has done little good for the country.
He said Saddam's age, 68, also will make the trial seem unfair to many Iraqis. Their sympathy will make them feel patriotic and angry toward the U.S.-led forces occupying Iraq, he predicted.