- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

The chief judge trying Saddam Hussein has submitted his resignation amid fierce criticism by Iraqi officials of his “soft” handling of the former Iraqi strongman and seven co-defendants in a murder trial.

Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, a Kurd, tendered his resignation from the Iraqi Special Tribunal several days ago, and tribunal officials were attempting yesterday to persuade the judge to change his mind, according a source involved with the proceedings.

The resignation was prompted by criticism from politicians that the judge had allowed Saddam and other co-defendants to turn the trial into a platform to intimidate witnesses and press claims to be Iraq’s legitimate rulers.

One of Judge Amin’s harshest critics, National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said yesterday: “It’s not up to the government — it’s up to the chief of the Special Tribunal to accept or reject the resignation.”

Contacted by telephone, Mr. al-Rubaie told The Washington Times that the Iraqi people are “very, very angry at the way the judge has dealt with the case.”

Mr. al-Rubaie first revealed government dismay at the latitude being allowed to Saddam in an interview last month, in which he called for Judge Amin’s replacement.

“The judge is doing a very bad job,” Mr al-Rubaie said at the time. “I think he should be replaced, yes, absolutely.”

The judge has faced harangues from a truculent Saddam alongside his irascible and at times leering half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, the former intelligence chief.

At one point, al-Tikriti cursed at a witness.

“The witnesses are under attack, and being spat on by Barzan Tikriti and being called names and cursed by Saddam,” Mr. al-Rubaie said in the earlier interview.

The chief prosecutor in Saddam’s trial, Jaafar al-Mousawi, told the Associated Press yesterday that Judge Amin’s resignation — if accepted — would not affect the proceedings because he could be quickly replaced.

“There are substitutes. If any judge wanted to resign, it wouldn’t hinder the trial process,” he said.

Judge Amin would be the second judge to step down in the case. Another member of the panel recused himself in late November because one of the co-defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother. That judge was replaced.

The tribunal has also been under pressure to speed up proceedings — pressure that is likely to continue as Shi’ite parties cemented their dominant position in last month’s parliamentary elections.

Judge Amin, 48, told Reuters in November he had taken on two bodyguards. But he stressed: “A judge should never be afraid.”

He is the only one of five judges in the Saddam trial to be publicly identified.

A leading Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq, told The Times last night he expects the chief judge will change his mind and stay.

“The judge has somehow proved to be very professional. There is a lot of pressure on him from the Shia side,” said Mr. al-Mutlaq, who leads the Sunni Arab National Dialogue Front.

“They want to finish it fast and sentence him to death,” he said.

Saddam and his co-defendants are on trial for the murder of more than 140 Shi’ite Muslims in the town of Dujail in 1982 after a failed assassination attempt.

Even though the trial could continue without Judge Amin, his departure would represent another setback in the proceedings, which have been limited to seven days of hearings since the trial began Oct. 19.

Defense attorneys and some international human-rights lawyers have recommended that the trial be relocated to an international court.

“The defense team has long warned about the dangers of political pressure that has undermined the court’s independence and integrity,” Saddam’s chief attorney, Khalil Dulaimi, told Reuters yesterday.

“We expect the political pressures to mount on the court after… the farce it has turned out to be,” he said.

Meanwhile, electoral officials said results of the Dec. 15 vote for parliament would be released later this week, allowing formal negotiations on a new government to begin.

In fighting yesterday, a Marine was killed by small-arms fire in the western city of Ramadi, the U.S. military said.

Distributed by World News & Features

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