BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – The judge in Saddam Hussein’s trial ruled Wednesday that the former Iraqi leader and his intelligence chief may testify on behalf of one of their co-defendants, who is accused of helping in a 1982 crackdown on Shiites.

The defense wants Saddam and Barzan Ibrahim to testify on behalf of Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former member of Saddam’s inner circle. It was not clear when the two men would take the stand to discuss Ramadan’s alleged role in the mass arrests in the Shiite town of Dujail.

The defense appeared to be taking a two-pronged strategy in the trial, in which Saddam and his seven co-defendants face possible execution by hanging if convicted of crimes against humanity.

Saddam and the upper-level defendants like Ibrahim have insisted the sweep of arrests – in which some detainees, including women and children, died in prison and 148 Shiites were sentenced to death – was a justified response to a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam in the town.

But for four low-level Baath Party officials from Dujail – Mohammed Azawi Ali, Ali Dayih, Abdullah Kazim al-Ruwayyid and his son Mizhar – the defense has tried to show they were not involved at all, bringing a string of alibi witnesses, including relatives, to the stand the past three days.

One witness, a former neighbor of Ali who was 18 years old at the time of the sweep, testified Wednesday that Ali persuaded security forces who had come to arrest his family not to do so.

“He is a good man,” the witness said, speaking from behind a curtain to preserve his anonymity. “My father told me that if Mohammed hadn’t spoken up, I would be dead.”

The witnesses portrayed Ali and the al-Ruwayyids as victims, saying their lands were among those razed by security forces in retaliation for the attack.

Ali’s wife and son also testified from behind a screen, saying Ali was briefly detained the day of the July 8, 1982 shooting on Saddam’s motorcade because some of his cousins were members of the Shiite Dawa Party behind the attack. His wife said Ali lost his post in the Baath Party because of his cousins’ links.

The four are accused of helping security forces conduct arrests and informing on Dujail residents. Some people they allegedly named in letters to security officials – including women and children – later died from torture or harsh prison conditions or were among the 148 people sentenced to death. Iraqi experts authenticated their handwriting in the letters, though they deny writing them.

After hearing nine witnesses, the court adjourned until Monday.

With the trial now in its defense phase, a U.S. official close to the court said the proceedings could be wrapped up by late June. After the defense finishes its case, both sides make their final statements and each defendant will also have the opportunity to address the court, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the tribunal.

Afterward, the court would recess for an unknown period before announcing its verdict, the official said. The defendants have the right to appeal.

Ramadan, who was a member of Saddam’s Revolutionary Command Council, has denied he had any role in the Dujail crackdown. But he complained Wednesday that he had no witnesses from the town to testify that he was not there during the sweeps.

“I know no one from Dujail. Should I go there and ask around for people who can confirm that I was there or not? My witnesses are here with us,” he said.

One of his lawyers asked the judge “to allow us to pose some questions to Saddam and Ibrahim,” and the judge replied, “OK, you will be allowed.”

He later asked the defense to present the request in written form.

Putting Saddam on the stand would allow the prosecution to cross-examine him, though chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi told The Associated Press he would be limited to questioning Saddam on his testimony on Ramadan.

But al-Moussawi said their comments “will not be considered as a full testimony, meaning the court will hear him but will not depend on his testimony, because they are defendants in the same case. It’s all up to the judge.”

Prosecutors have directly questioned Saddam once already in the 7-month-old trial, when the judge called each of the eight defendants one-by-one for testimony. Saddam’s turn took place in an April 5 session, when he acknowledged approving death sentences for 148 Shiites from Dujail but otherwise dodged many of the prosecutors’ questions.

Saddam appeared jovial throughout Wednesday’s session, smiling as he entered and joking with the judge when Ali shouted that he had nothing to do with the crackdown.

“Dujail’s residents are known for their hot blood,” Saddam said of Ali, drawing a smile from chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman.

Saddam even stood and made a point in favor of the prosecution in an argument that broke out when prosecutors objected to testimony by a relative of Ali on the grounds that he was only 7 years old when the Dujail crackdown was launched in 1982.

“The man was 7 years old at the time and is 30 now, it’s a long period,” Saddam said. “Imagination is part of a child’s nature … so that could lead him to give testimony based on imagination, and that would lead to injustice.”

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