- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

BAGHDAD — Trials for the top figures in Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime will begin next week, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said yesterday, but Saddam will not be among them.

Many of Iraq’s former Ba’ath Party members have been in jail for more than a year, and few have been able to meet with lawyers. Saddam’s Jordan-based lawyers say they have not seen the former dictator, arrested a year ago Monday, and argued that holding trials so soon would be illegal.

“The Iraqi court will be in violation of the basic rights of the defendants, which is to have access to legal counsel while being interrogated and indicted,” Ziad al-Khasawneh said.

Officials had given conflicting accounts about when the Iraqi Special Tribunal would begin the trials, and have suggested that Saddam would not be tried first. The Associated Press learned yesterday that the proceedings next week would not involve Saddam.

“I can now tell you clearly and precisely that, God willing, next week the trials of the symbols of the former regime will start, one by one, so that justice can take its path in Iraq,” Mr. Allawi told the interim National Council, without saying who would be tried.

Mr. Allawi had previously said the trials would take place in October or November, while others have said they would begin no earlier than 2006. An Allawi spokesman later said he had no information about who would be tried first and that more details would be released today.

“There is a court process that involves investigative judges and a hearing for some of the former regime officials that is under preparation that we would expect to be held next week,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.

“At that point, the accused and their attorneys do go to court, although that’s not the actual trial.”

Iraq’s human rights minister, Bekhtiar Amin, said from Geneva that work was under way to bring some of Saddam’s lieutenants to trial before him.

“I don’t know for sure when Saddam Hussein in particular will be tried, but the trial is scheduled to start sometime next year, the first quarter of next year,” Mr. Amin said. “I doubt that Saddam will be the first one to be tried; there are others whom they will start with and the work is ongoing right now.”

Mr. Allawi also announced the arrest of a Saddam cousin, Izzi-Din Mohammed Hassan al-Majid.

Mr. al-Majid, who fled Iraq in 1995 and was granted indefinite leave to remain in Britain in 2000, was arrested in Fallujah and will be put on trial as soon as possible, Mr. Allawi said.

Government leaders have said recently the Special Tribunal is not yet prepared to begin the trials. They need to train judges and prosecutors, and sort through stacks of evidence, all under the pressure of a deadly insurgency that has been able to strike at will.

“The prosecution team, the defense counsel, the investigative judges, the documents are not ready,” National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said last week. “It will take time. If you want to get it right, it will take time.”

But leaders have come under new pressure recently. On Monday, the U.S. military acknowledged that eight of Saddam’s 11 top lieutenants went on hunger strikes over the weekend to demand visits in jail from the International Committee of the Red Cross, but they were eating again by Monday.

A lawyer for former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said the prisoners were protesting the legality of their trials and their detention.

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