Iraqis to get legal custody of Saddam

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Iraq's Prime Minister Iyad Allawi declared that Saddam Hussein will be handed over to Iraqi custody tomorrow and face charges before an Iraqi court the following day.

Iraq's Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said today that Saddam Hussein will be transferred to Iraqi legal custody and face charges before an Iraqi court this week - but will remain in a US-run jail for now because his government does not have a suitable prison.

Allawi promised an open proceeding when Saddam faces war crimes charges, including genocide. Eleven other "high-value detainees" also are expected to face justice, he told reporters during his first news conference since the US-led coalition handed over sovereignty to his government yesterday.

"I know I speak for my fellow countrymen when I say I look forward to the day former regime leaders face justice," he said.

Saddam will be transferred to Iraqi legal custody on Wednesday and face an Iraqi judge on Thursday, Allawi said.

However, the trials for Saddam and 11 others will not occur for months and he urged the Iraqi people to be patient. He acknowledged that more than 1 million Iraqis are missing as a result of events that occurred during the former regime - and that many Iraqis want justice done.

But he insisted that Saddam must receive a "just trial, a fair trial."

"We would like to show the world that the new Iraq government means business and wants to do business and wants to stabilise Iraq and put it on the road toward democracy and peace," Allawi said. "We want to put this bad history behind us and move toward a spirit of national unity and reconciliation in the future."

Allawi said Iraqi leaders requested that coalition forces retain custody of the deposed leader, "until correction services are fully capable of providing for their safety and secure detention of the accused."

Saddam, who was captured by US troops on December 13, is being kept at an undisclosed location in or near Baghdad and has been interrogated by the CIA and FBI.

The tribunal that will try Saddam has a budget of $75 million. It will rely on a mix of Iraqi criminal law, international regulations such as the Geneva Convention and experiences of bodies such as the Rwanda war crimes tribunal.

The US Justice Department has been gathering evidence for a war crimes case against Saddam, while other international groups have been sifting through the mass graves where US officials say victims of Saddam's regime were buried.

Saddam's military also used chemical weapons against troops and civilians during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s and during a Kurdish uprising.

Allawi said the Iraqi Cabinet was still discussing whether to reinstate the death penalty.

Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan said Saddam could have a foreign lawyer - if the Iraqi lawyers' association agrees.

The Jordanian lawyer claiming to represent Saddam has argued that the ousted leader should be released because handing him over to Iraq's new government would violate international law.

Ziad al-Khasawneh, one of 20 Jordanian and foreign lawyers appointed by Saddam's wife, Sajidah, said the United States has no legal basis to keep prisoners, including the ousted ruler, now that it has transferred authority to an interim Iraqi government.

Saddam was granted prisoner of war status after his capture. Although he is alleged to have committed crimes against his own people, he has not been charged with any offence.