'Iraqis want Saddam tried and executed'

Regime's leaders will be held to account at home, not by international tribunal, says top British official
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Indy Politics

The men who carried out mass killings and other atrocities on the instructions of Saddam Hussein will be handed over to newly constituted Iraqi courts for trial and probable execution, said Britain's most senior official in Iraq.

If Saddam himself is found alive, there will be a clamour from his former victims for him to be killed quickly, if only to reassure the Iraqi people that he can never return to power, John Sawers, head of the British mission in Basra, told The Independent on Sunday. "The Iraqis want him to be found. They will want his head on a stick," he added.

The prospects of Iraqi officials being put through a rudimentary legal process and led off to execution is certain to offend liberal opinion in Britain - although it may cause fewer difficulties than seeing them tried and executed by the Americans, an idea floated in Washington.

But Mr Sawers hinted that it is unlikely that either Saddam Hussein or any other former Iraqi leaders will appear before the kind of international tribunal that has dealt with war criminals from the Balkans or Rwanda.

He said there is "no precedent" for any international war crimes trial of Iraqis, because their case is distinct from the Serbian and Rwandan conflicts. It also unlikely an international tribunal would inflict the death penalty.

He added that a South African-style reconciliation exercise "has not been ruled out", but he doubted whether it would satisfy Iraqis still grieving over the estimated 180,000 Kurds and tens of thousands of Shias dead or missing after the brutal repression of the 1991 uprising.

"This part of the world is more into retributive justice. People will want them to be punished," he said.

"Once we are no longer responsible for this country, it will be up to the Iraqis to decide their procedures. We are, as a government, opposed to the death penalty, the Americans are not, but it will be up to the Iraqis to decide.

"The Iraqis themselves have got to come to terms with what has happened over the last 24 years. They want to have what they call transitional justice. They want to hold to account these people who are responsible for what they went through."

More than half the Iraqi leaders identified on the US's celebrated "deck of cards" are still missing. Tariq Aziz, the former foreign minister, is the best known of those who have been captured or given themselves up - but even he appears to have thrown little light on the fate of Saddam or his immediate family.

Neither the former dictator nor his sons Uday and Qusay have been traced, although some intelligence reports have suggested that Saddam himself was fatally injured in the first US attempt on his life, in the early hours of 20 March, at the very start of the conflict.

Mr Sawers himself said "there is evidence both ways" about whether Saddam is still alive. Rumours that Uday was negotiating terms of his surrender to the Coalition turned out to be untrue.

The biggest fish netted thus far is the very senior Baath party official Aziz Saleh al-Numan, reputedly after efforts by his family to negotiate a surrender and then to throw American forces off track by publishing a death notice.

Numan was number 8 on Central Command's list, and is among the nine top leaders whom the US wants to see tried for war crimes or crimes against humanity. He was prominent in the quelling of the Shia uprising in the immediate aftermath of the 1991 war which drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Numan, a Shia himself, has been accused by opposition Iraqi groups of rampant killing and torture.

Others in custody include General Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti, a former Republican Guard official and number 10 on the most-wanted list, who gave himself up in Baghdad last month. Sultan, a cousin of Saddam, spent almost his entire career in the Republican Guard. His brother is married to Saddam's youngest daughter, Hala.

No one - not even Rihab Taha, the British-trained microbiologist known as "Dr Germ" for her role in Iraq's biological weapons programme and who was detained last month - appears to have helped to locate Iraq's alleged stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons over which the war was fought.