THE prosecution has almost delivered its case and the world's most notorious defendant will now be given his chance.
A verdict is expected in June in the case of the Republic of Iraq versus Saddam Hussein - following the outlining of the defence - but the dilemma for court officials has never loomed larger.
Later this year, the former dictator, a Sunni, could be sentenced to death by hanging for his part in the murder of 148 Shi'ites following an assassination attempt in 1982.
The situation in Iraq has deteriorated to such an extent during the trial, however, that the execution of Saddam could be the final push that tips the country into outright civil war.
There are other factors, too, conspiring against a swift end for the brutal ex-leader. Last week, the tribunal trying Saddam announced plans for a second trial, possibly beginning in 45 days, on genocide charges connected to the Iraqi army's campaign against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed.
Although there is a possibility that Saddam could be executed while the second trial is still running, even high-ranking Kurds, such as President Jalal Talabani, doubt whether the sentence would be carried out until all trials were complete in a process expected to take years.
The trial of Saddam has so far not been the triumph for international justice that was hoped. The intention of the American and British governments was that the focus should be on the victims, with witnesses detailing how Saddam's torturous tyranny caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
Instead it has been Saddam hogging the limelight. Even worse, his outbursts have been calculated to inflame the two main insurgent groups, the minority Sunnis and the dispossessed Ba'athist party members, and unite them against the US-led occupiers.
"It's a win-win situation for Saddam and his cronies," said Cherif Bassiouni, author of Crimes Against Humanity and former chairman of the UN Commission of Experts on the Former Yugoslavia. "He either goes in there and he takes over the proceedings, or he stays out and he turns out to be a martyr, which is an absolute tragedy for the victims."
Trial observers see a master manipulator at work. Dr Robert Leiken, director of the Washington-based think tank the Nixon Centre, said: "Saddam spends a lot of time praying, reading the Koran, trying to make the point that he is a pious Muslim, trying to solidify the alliance between the Saddamists and the Islamists."
Saddam's clashes with the prosecution and judges, along with hunger strikes, walkouts, claims of mistreatment and even on one occasion an appearance in his underwear, have become routine as the court has failed disastrously to prevent him from turning its proceedings into a show trial - that is, an opportunity for the former dictator to show off.
Completely submerged beneath all this is the meticulous attempt by the prosecution to build a compelling case against Saddam and his co-defendants. Worse may be to come. "The trial has not gone as anybody has hoped," adds Michael Scharf, a US-based war crimes expert.
"What Saddam Hussein is going to do in the second half of the trial is try to argue that what he did to the town of Dujail is the same thing that the US has been doing to towns across Iraq and Afghanistan when faced with terrorism and insurgents. He will raise the defence that he did the same thing against insurgents and terrorists that the US is doing in Iraq."
Court officials say the Iraqi government is keen to remove Saddam as quickly as possible because he is a dangerous focal point for the insurgency. But David Scheffer, an international human rights expert at Northwestern University in Illinois, says: "No one can predict accurately the consequences of the death penalty being carried out. But one has to assume the worst-case scenario in the violent circumstances of contemporary Iraq. A death penalty will likely make Saddam a martyr for the insurgency and much of the Sunni population."
Scheffer says that there is a strong argument for Saddam to be kept alive for many years in order to be prosecuted for more significant atrocities, including the chemical gassing at Halabja, the invasion and occupation of Kuwait, the brutal suppression of the Shia and Kurdish uprisings following the Gulf War, and the draining of the southern marshes, home to the Marsh Arabs.
"If Saddam is executed following the Dujail trial, the historical record would not be served well. The millions of victims and their families in Iraq, Kuwait and Iran would look back at the Dujail trial as an obscenity," Scheffer said.