- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

BAGHDAD — The chief judge in Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial was replaced yesterday after complaints from Shi’ite and Kurdish officials that he was too easy on the deposed Iraqi leader.

It was the second time that a chief judge was changed while Saddam was on trial. In each case, there were accusations that Saddam was allowed too much leeway in court.

Chief Judge Abdullah al-Amiri was replaced on the five-member panel by his deputy in the trial, Judge Mohammed al-Uraibiy, a court official said. The new chief judge is a Shi’ite Arab, as is Judge al-Amiri.

The Iraqi High Tribunal, the country’s supreme court, sought the change and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki approved it, a government official said. Both officials asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the press.

Meanwhile in violence yesterday, rockets and mortars struck three neighborhoods in Baghdad and a car bomb exploded near a gas station, killing 15 persons and wounding more than 50, while police recovered three more apparent victims of sectarian reprisal slayings in the capital.

Four U.S. soldiers died in a series of incidents across Iraq, the U.S. military reported yesterday.

A soldier with the 89th Military Police Brigade was killed and two others wounded when their vehicle was struck yesterday by a suicide car bomber in the northern city of Mosul.

In Baghdad, a soldier died when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the northeastern part of the capital. Shortly afterward, another was killed by small arms in north-central Baghdad. Both incidents took place on Sunday.

On Monday, a soldier in the medical task force that provides health care in Iraq died of “non-battle-related injuries,” the statement from the U.S. military said without elaborating.

A lawyer defending senior officials in Saddam’s former regime decried the judicial change as purely political.

“This was a coup that succeeded. There was no legal reason for removing Judge al-Amiri,” defense attorney Badee Izzat Aref said. “The court officials felt that he would not respond to their demands.”

Hussein al-Duri, an aide to Mr. al-Maliki, said one reason for the change was Judge al-Amiri’s statement in court last week in which he told Saddam, “You were not a dictator.”

In Iraq, Mr. al-Duri told Al Arabiya television, “It is not allowed for the judge to express his opinion.”

Judge al-Amiri’s comment angered many Kurds and Shi’ites and fueled criticism that he was too lenient with Saddam. Prosecutors earlier asked for Judge al-Amiri to be replaced after he allowed Saddam to lash out at Kurdish witnesses in court.

The change could revive complaints that the government is interfering with the trial in the hope that Saddam and his co-defendants will be convicted quickly. Saddam faces a death penalty if convicted on genocide charges over the Anfal military offensive against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s.

In Saddam’s first trial — on purported atrocities against Shi’ites in the town of Dujail — the chief judge stepped down halfway through the proceedings, saying he no longer could put up with criticism from officials who said he allowed too many courtroom outbursts by Saddam and his co-defendants.

He was followed by a far tougher judge who repeatedly threw defendants and defense attorneys out of court.

A verdict in the Dujail trial is expected Oct. 16.

Judge al-Amiri presided over the latest session of the current trial yesterday, in which Kurdish survivors of Anfal recounted the bombardment of their villages by the Iraqi military.

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