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Iraq: Election Campaign Begins As Trials Announced For Former Officials

Then-President Saddam Hussein and his coterie (file photo) Iraq's political parties kicked off their first official day of campaigning today for national elections. On 30 January, Iraqis are scheduled to elect a 275-member assembly that will appoint a government and draft a constitution. The campaign began one day after Iraq's interim prime minister announced that some leaders of the former regime would go on trial as early as next week for crimes against humanity and war crimes. For now, there are no indications when ousted President Saddam Hussein will stand trial.

Prague, 15 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Today was the last day for Iraqi parties or coalitions to register for the country's scheduled elections in late January.

Election officials said some 70 parties have registered to take part in the polls, including some Sunni Muslim groups that had previously threatened to boycott the vote. There is also a joint list put forward by top figures from Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority.

Yahia Said is a researcher at the London School of Economics. He told RFE/RL that so far, Iraqi political parties haven't said what they plan to do about economic reforms or federation issues.

The election campaign, he said, will help shed some light on these and other topics.
The campaigning began a day after interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced that some members of Saddam Hussein's government would go on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes as early as next week.

"There has been lots of talking about postponing the elections or holding them on time," Said said. "There has been lots of talk about civil war and including the Sunnis or not including the Sunnis [in the lection process]. But so far we haven't heard any political programs from the competing parties. And that's really the important thing about the elections -- to hear what various candidates have to offer, what do they think, for example, about the presence of foreign troops in the country."

The campaigning began a day after interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced that some members of Saddam Hussein's government would go on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes as early as next week.

Allawi said "symbols" of the former regime would be tried "one by one," but he gave few details. There was no indication when Hussein himself might stand trial.

However, analyst Said played down the significance of the announced trial, calling it part of Allawi's election campaign.

"The trial will only start next week. It's not necessarily that it will be concluded very soon," Said said. "I suspect the announcement is part of the Allawi's pre-election campaign, and he's trying to show progress on that issue and believes it will be a popular [move] among the public but I suspect the trial will go very slowly."

Said said a trial of notorious figures of Hussein's regime such as Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," might boost the interim government's popularity.

Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Shaalan told reporters today that al-Majid would be the first to go on trial.

Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein's lawyers have criticized the trial plans. A spokesman for Hussein's legal team, Ziad Khassawhen, told Reuters that his defense attorneys have not had time to consult with the defendants and that any court proceedings under such conditions would amount to political show trials.

Muhammad al-Rashdan is a member of Hussein's Jordan-based defense team. He told RFE/RL that he is unhappy with Allawi's plans to start the trail immediately, which he called politically motivated.

"They want to do something before the elections and for political reasons. This is what happened," al-Rashdan said. "All the time they said that they would start the trial before the elections [and are trying to keep the promise]."

Al-Rashdan said he does not expect a fair trial. He said that defense lawyers have had no chance to prepare their case and he fears that he and other attorneys will be removed and the Iraqi government will appoint other lawyers in their place.

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