Iraqi officials call on Saddam trial judge to reconsider resignation

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Iraqi government officials were frantically trying to persuade the chief judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein to stay in office after announcing that he intended to resign. Rizgar Amin, who has shown seemingly endless patience during the former Iraqi dictator's trial, submitted his resignation for "personal" reasons but most commentators feel he has become tired of government interference and criticism.

"The court has dispatched a senior judge today to visit him and try to dissuade him from resigning," Mumkidh Taklif al-Fatlawi, one of the prosecutors in the trial, said. "They are afraid of the damage this will do to the credibility of the tribunal."

If the resignation is accepted, it will be a blow for Iraq's government and the US, who hope a legitimate prosecution of Saddam will help placate ordinary Iraqis.

But sources close to the judge said Shia leaders, who long to see the accused hanged, were becoming increasingly critical of the judge being too soft on Saddam. Throughout the trial, Judge Amin has remained even-handed and calm despite numerous interruptions and anti-government tirades by former officials on trial.

He even managed to win over the respect of the former Iraqi dictator. During one session, Saddam told him: "Despite my opinion of this court and its legitimacy, I respect you because I know you are a judge and were a judge before the occupation."

The tribunal in charge of the trial has not yet decided whether to accept the resignation. "He might back down," one tribunal judge said. "Otherwise another judge will be appointed." The trial is due to resume on 24 January.