- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — U.S. officials have agreed to hand over top Saddam Hussein loyalists to an Iraqi tribunal that was formally established yesterday, Iraqi officials said.

The court also plans to try Saddam in absentia for crimes against humanity, if the fugitive dictator is not caught or killed.

Of the 55 Iraqis on a U.S. most-wanted list, 38 have been captured and two killed. Officials say trials would begin next year with the prosecution of some of the 38 in custody.

“We agreed that those who have been accused and detained would be handed over to this historic court,” said Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the current president of Iraq’s Governing Council.

The announcement came as small-arms fire and a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded four.

Early today, U.S. forces arrested three men and said they seized a cache of weapons big enough to launch 50 guerrilla attacks.

In the front garden of one of the two houses raided in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, soldiers dug up a hoard of rifles, grenades and explosives that the commanding officer described as “a Fedayeen candy shop.”

“This is mission-oriented. This is stuff they dole out,” said Lt. Col. Steve Russell of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division.

Yesterday, guerrillas also attacked an Air Force C-17 transport plane with a ground-fired missile, forcing it to return to Baghdad, a senior Pentagon official said.

The U.S. military in Baghdad said the plane reported an engine explosion on takeoff Tuesday. One of the 16 persons aboard was slightly injured.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, Mr. al-Hakim said the war crimes tribunal will cover crimes committed from July 17, 1968 — the day Saddam’s Ba’ath Party came to power — until May 1, 2003 — the day President Bush declared an end to major hostilities.

“Today is an important historic event in the history of Iraq,” Mr. al-Hakim said.

Plans to establish the tribunal were first reported in The Washington Times in early October.

It will try cases stemming from mass executions of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s, as well as the suppression of uprisings by Kurds and Shi’ite Muslims after the 1991 Gulf war.

Mr. al-Hakim said it also would try cases involving Iran — with which Iraq fought a bloody 1980-88 war — and Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in 1990.

U.S. authorities are holding several dozen of Saddam’s top aides who could go before the tribunal. These include Ali Hassan al-Majid — known as “Chemical Ali” — who gained notoriety for his savage campaign against Kurds.

Noor al-Din, a former appeals court judge, said the tribunal could try Saddam, who has eluded capture, in absentia.

The deaths in Mosul brought to 450 the number of U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion on March 19. Of those, 310 have died as a result of hostile action.

Pentagon officials said in Washington that 250 of the 700 Iraqi soldiers trained by the U.S.-led occupation authority have quit. The battalion completed a nine-week basic training course in October and was to be the core of a new Iraqi army.

It was uncertain why a third of the soldiers abandoned their new jobs, though some had complained that the starting salary — $60 a month for privates — was too low, officials said.

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