Allawi accused of rushing trials for Saddam's aides

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The Independent Online

War crimes trials against senior lieutenants of Saddam Hussein will start in Baghdad next week, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said yesterday. But other members of the government said little preparatory work had been done for court proceedings. Saddam Hussein is unlikely to face trial until much later.

War crimes trials against senior lieutenants of Saddam Hussein will start in Baghdad next week, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said yesterday. But other members of the government said little preparatory work had been done for court proceedings. Saddam Hussein is unlikely to face trial until much later.

Mr Allawi told the Interim National Council: "I can tell you clearly and precisely that, God willing, next week the trials of the symbols of the former regime will start, one by one so justice can take its course in Iraq."

The unexpected announcement may be part of Mr Allawi's election campaign for the poll on 30 January. Salem Chalabi, the former director of the special tribunal in charge of the trials who was purged in September, accused Mr Allawi of pushing for show trials before the election.

An ill-prepared trial could backfire. Government leaders say evidence has yet to be examined. "The prosecution team, the defence counsel, the investigative judges, the documents are not ready," the national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, said last week. "It will take time. If you want to get it right it will take time."

A trial of leading Baathists is likely to be divisive since Iraqi Kurds, victims of systematic torture and massacre under the former regime, would like to see Saddam and his chief lieutenants executed. Some, but not all, the Shia Arabs feel the same way. The Sunni, which provided the core of the Baath party, may resent the trials as a sign that their community is being singled out for persecution.

Saddam's Jordan-based lawyer, Ziad al-Kasawneh, said: "The Iraqi court will be in violation of the basic rights of the defendants, which is to have access to legal counsel while being interrogated and indicted." Mr Kasawneh, who has not yet met his client, doubted the trials would start next week. "I think Mr Allawi is dreaming," he said. "He cannot make such a bold announcement without consulting with his boss, President [George] Bush."

The US military has acknowledged that eight of 11 of Saddam Hussein's aides, held at the US base near Baghdad airport, went on a hunger strike over the weekend, demanding a visit by the international committee of the Red Cross.

The only appearance of Saddam and his lieutenants before the special tribunal in July did backfire, when he attacked the legitimacy of the court. A trial now would have to rely on US protection and could easily be portrayed by Baathists as being orchestrated by foreign occupiers and their dupes. The US has paid the special tribunal's £40m budget.

The country's chronic insecurity was underlined yesterday when a suicide bomber struck for the second day running at the same entrance to the Green Zone which houses the US embassy and the Iraqi interim government. The early-morning explosion killed seven people. And two more US Marines were killed in western Iraq; 10 have died in the past three days.

The attacks show that the capture of Fallujah last month has not quelled the insurgency, with 40 US soldiers killed in the first two weeks of December.

The US is raising the number of its troops in Iraq from 138,000 to 150,000, ostensibly for the election. But General Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, admitted the extra forces would stay after the election; their withdrawal "will be determined by events on the ground".

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