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Iraq: Authorities In Baghdad Take Legal Custody of Saddam Hussein

Just two days after Iraq's interim government took power in Baghdad, U.S. forces have handed over former President Saddam Hussein to the legal custody of the new authorities. Transferred along with Hussein today were 11 senior figures from his government, which was ousted by U.S.-led forces more than a year ago. Among them are former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in chemical weapons attacks. Hussein is expected to face a wide range of charges in court tomorrow.

Prague, 30 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Today's handover of Saddam Hussein to the legal custody of the new Iraqi interim government marks a historic moment.

The former president, who through more than two decades in power tyrannized his country and shed the blood of his countrymen, is being delivered at last to justice.

Analyst Alireza Nourizadeh, of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, described as "brilliant" the new Iraqi government's decision to immediately assert jurisdiction over Hussein. It will "demythologize" him, he said.

"Watching Saddam standing in front of an Iraqi judge and being questioned, that will be a turning point, at least for those who were still hoping Saddam would one day return [to power]," Nourizadeh said.

Nourizadeh said that for victims of Hussein's rule there will be the satisfaction of knowing they will have justice for their suffering.

Hussein was captured by U.S. forces last December. On that day, the senior U.S. administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, gave the message to the world.

"This is a great day in Iraq's history. For decades hundreds of thousands of you suffered at the hands of this cruel man," Bremer said. "For decades Saddam Hussein divided you citizens against each other. For decades he threatened and attacked your neighbors."
"We assure you that this will be a just trial and a fair trial, unlike the trials that [Hussein] inflicted on his enemies, on the Iraqi people." -- Prime Minister Allawi.

In the months Hussein has been in custody there has been widespread discussion of where and how he should be tried and whether he can expect to receive a fair trial.

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi addressed that issue yesterday. He said the new democracy-seeking Iraq will give Hussein a fairer hearing than he might have expected.

"We assure you that this will be a just trial and a fair trial, unlike the trials that [Hussein] inflicted on his enemies, on the Iraqi people," Allawi said.

In remarks to journalists yesterday, Allawi emphasized the full legality of the proceedings. He said there was no chance they would devolve into a show trial.

"The courts will be just courts," he said. "There will be, definitely, proof and evidence and it will be a full legal proceeding."

For safety's sake, Hussein and his 11 former associates will remain in the physical custody of U.S. forces until Iraqi forces are capable of detaining them securely.

Hussein is expected to go before an Iraqi court tomorrow to hear charges against him. Iraqi officials said he faces a long list of charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The charges relate to a 1988 chemical-weapons attack on Kurds, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the 1980-88 war with Iran, and to the bloody suppression of the Shi'a uprising in southern Iraq after U.S.-led forces drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

Salem Chalabi, an Iraqi lawyer overseeing the trial process, said Hussein is expected to go on full trial next year, while the trial of other suspects could begin as early as this fall.

Chalabi also said authorities have started a witness-protection program to encourage Iraqis to come forward to testify against the suspects, including Hussein.

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