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Iraq: Tribunal Insists No Trial Date Set For Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein at his mid-2004 arraignment (screen capture) 8 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Iraqi Special Tribunal set the record straight on 6 June about claims made by President Jalal Talabani and other members of Iraq's transitional government that former dictator Saddam Hussein would go on trial in the next two months.

The rush by transitional government officials to proceed with the trial reflects a belief that a trial will bring certain results on the ground vis-a-vis the insurgency.

"There is no exact schedule time [frame]," the tribunal said in a 6 June statement, adding, "Any [date] to start the trials belongs to the decision of the judges who will examine the claims against the accusers after finishing the investigation."

Iraqi officials were quick to concede the error, and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's spokesman confirmed to reporters at a 7 June press briefing that no date had been set, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the tribunal also reportedly refuted Kubba's 6 June statement that Hussein would be tried on only 12 documented charges, Reuters reported on 7 June.

Tribunal judge Na'im al-Igaili contested Talabani's 31 May claim about a trial date, telling RFI in a 3 June interview that "an independent tribunal has been established with judges and a president. They are the ones competent to make any announcements about the [trial] date because they have the evidence before them and they know better."

Possible Trial Impact

The urgency attached to the trial by the transitional government reflects an apparent belief by some members of the administration that the insurgency will somehow be assuaged by Hussein's trial. Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari said on 5 June that the trial "will impact the security situation." But the administration might be relying on false logic. Many predicted in 2003 that the insurgency would crumble once Hussein was caught; it did not. Iraqi Governing Council members contended that the insurgency could not possibly justify its agenda in Iraq after the transfer of power in June 2004; they were wrong. Iraq's interim government insisted that January's national elections would deal a decisive blow to the insurgency; and yet attacks, by some accounts, have risen dramatically since those elections.

The failure to impact the insurgency lies in its composition, once thought to comprise two groups: Hussein loyalists and Islamists loyal to Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Today it is evident that while Hussein loyalists continue to fight in Iraq (as do militant fighters affiliated with neither Hussein nor the Islamists), the majority of terrorist attacks are being carried out by two groups: al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden; and the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, another Islamist group with ties to the both bin Laden and al-Zarqawi.

Procedure, Insufficient Laws Slow Process

As tribunal judge al-Igaili told RFI on 3 June, if the tribunal continues to collect evidence against Hussein, he might never be tried due to the mountains of evidence that can be collected against him. Al-Igaili suggested that Hussein should be tried once sufficient cases are prepared against him, adding Iraqi law allows for three counts to be incorporated into a single case.

Transitional Justice Minister Abd al-Husayn Shandal told RFI in an exclusive interview for the weekly program "Human Rights" that the investigations against former regime members have not been completed. "None of the judges of this tribunal has the freedom to move freely to the places where those [representing the former regime] are being kept or detained and record their testimonies as he or she would like to," Shandal said. There are...strong measures on the part of the multinational forces,” he added without elaborating.

Shandal contended that Iraqi law is weak with respect to the powers of the tribunal. "The law that has established the court does not specify the source of authority of this court, or, to whom it is related," he said, adding, "We have first to revise the law and then the structure of this tribunal," after which trial dates will be set. "But now, neither I nor any other person can specify the suitable time for trying the exponents of the former regime in terms of a day or month." Shandal also claimed that many of the 70-plus judges currently serving on the tribunal "have limited qualifications and do not, in my opinion, possess judicial competences for trying Saddam and the exponents of his regime."

Trial Should Bring Closure

While the trial is not likely to bring an end to the insurgency, it should provide a sense of closure for the Iraqi people and another step forward in the process of democratization. This in itself is not to be discounted.

"I would like to see [Hussein] sitting and tried by the people. I do not want him to be killed or to be tortured. I want that we can ask him: 'Why did you launch the wars? Why were you slaughtering people? Why did you behave in that way?'" Abu Aws al-Khafaji (a pseudonym), an Iraqi who claims he was tortured and imprisoned by the Hussein regime, told RFI for a 6 June report. "I want the trial to be just because he [Hussein] was not just for all his life, for a single moment, [when ruling] over Iraq," he said, adding: "But I wish there is, God willing, a transparent and just tribunal over him as it would be over any other person or any other dictator."

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