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 » Inside the tribunal  |  Hussein's charges  |  Special Report

Saddam video shows calm before storm

1982 video depicts leader greeting and later interrogating Iraqis

From Aneesh Raman
CNN

Programming note: Watch CNN Wednesday for live updates on the trial of Saddam Hussein. In the U.S., tune in to "American Morning" with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien from 6-10 a.m. ET.

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Saddam Hussein in Dujail in 1982.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- On the eve of Saddam Hussein's trial, new footage has emerged of the fateful day in Dujail 23 years ago when the former dictator was the target of an assassination attempt.

Saddam and seven other of his regime's officials, whose trial by special tribunal is scheduled to begin Wednesday, are charged with scores of reprisal killings and tortures in the Tigris River town after the incident on July 8, 1982.

It is the first of several cases involving Saddam to reach the trial stage of the tribunal's work. The court also is investigating other incidents involving him, including the Anfal campaign that targeted Kurds. (Charges)

The video -- obtained by CNN -- was shot by Saddam's personal cameraman when the dictator visited the majority Shiite town about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad that summer on a Thursday, the start of the weekend for many in Iraq. (See personal cameraman's video -- 3:37)

The footage depicts the kind of visit Saddam and the Baathists regularly orchestrated to demonstrate he was a man of the people.

It shows a car carrying Saddam into the town of 75,000. Crowds run alongside his convoy, and women later rush to kiss the hand of the dictator, garbed in military clothes and strolling around with an easy gait and a non-intimidating manner.

In one home, he declines the offer of a glass of water, perhaps an example of his fear of being poisoned -- a sign of the perilous times for his Sunni-dominated Baathist government, which was fighting a war with its Shiite neighbor, Iran.

Saddam is seen and heard speaking to a crowd from atop the local party headquarters about that war, which started in 1980 and lasted until 1988, claiming around a million lives.

"I know and everyone knows that the people of Dujail are courageous," Saddam is heard saying to the crowd.

But later, off camera, a group of young men ambushed Saddam's convoy, trying but failing to kill him.

Mohammed Ali, in a recent interview with CNN, said one of the shooters, Hassan, asked him for a ride to what was the scene of the attempt on that day. Ali complied, apparently not sensing what was in store.

"Hassan came to me. I took him with my motorcycle. I remember he was carrying two pistols. We drove through orchards looking for other men, but we only saw two," he said.

"Hassan shot with his pistol to give the group a sign to start shooting at Saddam."

Another witness, named Raad, said: "When the convoy reached the orchards, three gunmen started shooting at his convoy from the left side. Saddam's guards started shooting back. ... I was only 20 meters away."

Saddam escaped injury. The video shows him later, telling a crowd: "These few shots don't frighten the people of Iraq, and they don't frighten Saddam Hussein."

But the regime is accused of immediately launching a clampdown on the locals, with thousands feeling the wrath of the regime.

Some were thrown in jail, some were tortured, and others were murdered, according to long-standing accounts of the incidents, confirmed by villagers who survived.

Dujail was placed under siege, its agriculture devastated and its homes destroyed.

More than 247,000 acres of orchards and palm groves were destroyed by government forces, ruining the town's primary source of income.

In the video, Saddam is seen and heard questioning people, his manner calm but serious.

"Where were you going?" he says to one man.

"I am fasting and was on my way to my house," the man answers.

Another says, "Please, sir, I'm in the Popular Army."

Saddam then says to associates, "Keep them separate and interrogate them."

One man named Ali, age 14 in 1982, survived four years in prison. He and his brothers each went to jail on the same day. It took him years to learn of his brothers' fate. (See video on families of victims -- 2:59)

"I found a document signed by Saddam in 1985 to execute some of the Dujail people with us in prison -- 149 people, including seven of my brothers, 34 of my relatives and ... 118 people of my town," he said.

"They are now for God; to God they have returned."

Despite the presence of a Shiite enclave in Dujail, the city is in Salaheddin province, heavily populated by Sunni Arabs and down the Tigris River from Samarra and Tikrit -- Saddam's hometown.

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