- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s new U.S-backed Governing Council agreed yesterday to set up a war-crimes tribunal that would try ousted President Saddam Hussein and his top associates, a spokesman for a key party in the council said.

U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said Washington and London would pull out their forces from Iraq once the coalition’s mission was accomplished.

“We have no desire to stay a day longer than necessary,” he told reporters in Baghdad.

For the first time, Mr. Bremer also linked the U.S. occupation in Iraq to the political process, saying that American forces would remain in the country until Iraqis agree on a new constitution and set up a democratic government.

“The next step is the launching of a process to write a new constitution for Iraq. … Once approved, democratic, free and fair elections can be held in Iraq for a fully sovereign Iraqi government. Then our job, the coalition’s job, will be done,” he said.

“The timing of how long the coalition stays here is now in the hands of the Iraqi people.”

As the number of American combat deaths neared the 1991 Persian Gulf war total of 147, the U.S. military announced a new nationwide crackdown — Operation Soda Mountain — to eliminate armed Iraqi resistance, and said its forces had killed five Iraqi fighters.

Washington blames attacks on its forces on supporters of Saddam, who disappeared during the U.S.-led invasion. Thirty-four persons on a U.S. list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis are either dead or in the hands of U.S. and British forces.

“The United States has not declared until now what it’s going to do with the 55. The Governing Council will take it upon itself to try them and to punish them according to law,” said Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress led by Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi.

“That includes Saddam, the biggest criminal.”

He did not say whether Saddam would be tried in absentia.

Mr. Qanbar said the council formed a commission to lay down laws that would allow it to put suspected war criminals on trial, including for mass killings, executions and chemical attacks against Kurds in the 1980s.

Mr. Qanbar said the 25-member council, formed Sunday, had also decided to create a commission to look into ways to “uproot” Saddam’s once all-powerful Ba’ath Party from the Iraqi society.

Iraq’s U.S.-led administration has banned the party and sacked all senior Ba’ath members from government jobs.

U.S. forces are also trying to crush growing armed resistance and the military said troops had conducted 53 raids across Iraq, detaining 316 persons and confiscating arms, ammunition and explosives in Operation Soda Mountain, launched Saturday. Another operation, Ivy Serpent, is part of the crackdown.

U.S. forces killed five Iraqis and captured one after they came under ambush while driving out of an ammunition depot, the commander of the unit involved said.

There were no U.S. casualties in the ambush between the cities of Ramadi and Habbaniyah, about 60 miles west of Baghdad in particularly hostile territory for U.S. troops.

Thirty-two U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since President Bush declared major combat over May 1.

A U.S. soldier was killed in a Baghdad ambush Monday, bringing the number of U.S. troops killed in hostile action since the invasion began on March 20 to 146, one less than the 1991 war over Kuwait.

In an abrupt about-turn, the U.S. military said Monday thousands of troops from its 3rd Infantry Division would stay in Iraq until further notice, instead of returning by September in line with an announcement made only last week.

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