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Saddam letter says Iraq’s ’liberation’ at hand, urges end to sectarian killings

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Gunmen killed the brother of the chief prosecutor in Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial Monday, as the ex-president called in an open letter for Iraqis to forgive their American enemies and stop sectarian killings because the country’s ‘‘liberation is at hand’’
    The letter appeared to be an effort by Saddam to cast himself in the role of a statesman who could reconcile and rebuild a nation now torn by intensifying sectarian bloodshed between Shiites and Sunnis, continuing attacks by Sunni insurgents and worsening economic problems.
    Many Iraqis have come to believe that the United States has decided to begin pulling out of Iraq despite President Bush’s denials. And the letter seems to argue that the tide may be turning against U.S.-led foreign troops 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 to be preoccupied in settling scores,’’ Saddam wrote in the Arabic-language letter.
    He signed it as ‘‘President and commander in chief of the holy warrior armed forces.’’
    The letter, a copy of which was obtained in Jordan by The Associated Press, was dictated to his lawyers during a meeting over the weekend.
    Court officials said Monday that a verdict and sentence would be handed down Nov. 5 in the first trial against Saddam, for the killings of 148 Shiite Muslims from the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt against him in 1982.
    Many fear the sentence — which is widely expected to be death by hanging — will further inflame sectarian animosities across Iraq, where Saddam remains popular among pockets of the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority.
    The slaying of the brother of the top prosecutor in Saddam’s second trial, Imad al-Faroon, added to the fears of sectarian violence. Al-Faroon was shot and killed in front of his wife at his home in Baghdad.
    His brother is chief prosecutor Muqith al-Faroon, a Shiite overseeing the case against Saddam on charges of crimes against humanity for a military campaign that killed thousands of Iraqi Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war.
    There was no immediate word from law enforcement authorities about the killing or who might be responsible. Imad al-Faroon worked as a legal adviser to Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile who returned to a prominent position in the early days after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam.
    Al-Faroon’s slaying came less than three weeks after the fatal shooting of a brother-in-law of a judge in the genocide trial, which was to resume Tuesday.
    Saddam said he resorted to a letter because ‘‘my chances to express my opinion are limited’’ in detention.
    ‘‘It was only a few times that I managed to address you through the farcical, so-called trial when the microphones were not switched off,’’ he said.
    The judges in Saddam’s two trials have repeatedly censured him, occasionally expelling him from the courtroom, for contempt of court and making political statements.
    Saddam urged Shiites and Sunnis to set aside their differences and focus instead on driving U.S. forces out of Iraq. Expressing pain over sectarian fighting, he said ‘‘my heart fails me’’ over what he called foreigners’ success in ‘‘sowing divisions among us.’’
    Iraqis are ‘‘living the most difficult period in history because of the occupation, killing, destruction and looting,’’ Saddam said, adding that he yearned for a ‘‘great unified Iraq, which is not split by any color, segment or allegation.’’
    He urged Sunnis to forgive their Iraqi opponents and also to forgive those who tracked down his two sons, Odai and Qussai, who were killed in a battle with American soldiers in the northern city of Mosul in 2003.
    ‘‘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 said.
    Saddam also urged the Sunni-dominated insurgency to choose targets carefully, warning that they are alienating the Iraqi public by using excessive force.
    Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam’s chief lawyer, said the deposed leader dictated the letter during a four-hour meeting at a Baghdad detention center Saturday.
    Al-Dulaimi said they also discussed Saddam’s two trials but he declined to be more specific about the talks, which were attended by Saddam’s other lawyers, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad and Jamal Halaby from Amman, Jordan. AP writer Shafika Mattar in Amman contributed to this report.

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