- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

BRUSSELS — Iraq’s justice minister said yesterday that U.S. officials are trying to delay interrogations of Saddam Hussein.

Justice Minister Abdel Hussein Shandal accused the Americans of delaying the process in order to conceal details of past support for the ousted Iraqi leader from the United States and other countries. Saddam was considered a U.S. ally during his war with Iran in the 1980s.

“It seems there are lots of secrets they want to hide,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Shandal, who said Saddam’s trial would be over by the end of the year in spite of the delays, was in the Brussels for an international conference beginning today on Iraq’s reconstruction.

At the meeting, to be attended by about 80 nations, the Iraqi delegation is expected to seek international support in dealing with three main issues — the political process, the economy and reconstruction, and security and rule of law.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will chair the conference, said this was “an apt time for the international community to join forces to support what the Iraqis are now going to do.”

“I really do think it helps us to turn a new page with the Iraqis, who have now demonstrated that they see their future on this political course, on a new economic course,” she told reporters on her way to Brussels from the Middle East.

The conference also is expected to yield new offers from Middle Eastern and European countries to forgive some of the $70 million in debt accumulated by Iraq under Saddam.

Mr. Shandal said in the interview he was confident that Saddam’s trial on war crimes charges would be over by the end of the year, underlining the Iraqi government’s determination to try the ousted leader soon.

“This trial will be accomplished within 2005 — and this will only be in Iraqi courts,” he said.

U.S. officials had no immediate comment on Mr. Shandal’s remarks, but the Americans privately have urged caution about rushing into a trial, saying the Iraqis need to develop a good court and judicial system — one of the main topics of discussion at today’s conference.

An official at the press office of the Iraqi Special Tribunal that is overseeing the court proceedings in Baghdad stressed it was an independent body and was not bound by the minister’s comments. He said no date had been set for Saddam’s trial.

“The interrogation of Saddam is taking place regularly and almost daily and neither the justice minister, nor the Americans, have anything to do with it because the IST is an independent court,” the official said. “Saddam’s trial will start as soon as the investigation finishes.”

Saddam, 68, has been jailed under American control at a U.S. military detention complex near Baghdad airport named Camp Cropper, which holds 110 high-profile detainees.

Mr. Shandal said that U.S. officials were trying to limit access to Saddam.

“There should be transparency and there should be frankness, but there are secrets that, if revealed, won’t be in the interest of many countries,” he said. “Who was helping Saddam all those years?”

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