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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 May, 2003, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Germany offers Iraq files advice
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein's regime is accused of many abuses

Iraq should secure documents from Saddam Hussein's ousted regime as soon as possible so crimes perpetrated under his leadership can be brought to justice, a leading German official has said.

Marianne Birthler, head of the German federal agency which keeps archives of the former East German secret service, told Germany's Tagespiegel newspaper that files from the Baath party's feared security service would prove invaluable in aiding the prosecution of such criminals.

"It is enormously important that the documents of the security agencies are saved and protected against loss or abuse," she told the paper.

"My advice would be to secure now at least the documents before they are irreparably lost."

She also said that Germany would be willing to offer help and advice to the Iraqis on such a task, from its own experience of confronting the past through exploring former East German secret police files.

US 'responsibility'

The former Iraqi president and his Baath political party are accused of massive human rights abuses while in power.

Nuremberg trials in Germany, 1945
Birthler compared the situation to the Nuremberg trials

Alleged atrocities include the mass murder and torture of political opponents and the use of chemical weapons - with appalling consequences - against the country's Kurdish minority.

Ms Birthler, comparing Iraq with a Germany in ruins in 1945 following World War II, said that the Americans should aid the Iraqis in the preservation of such documents as they had a "responsibility" towards Iraqis following US-led military action in the country.

She said that the Nuremberg trials following WWII, in which several Nazi-era war criminals were successfully prosecuted for war crimes, brought such atrocities into the open and would never have been possible without the support of Americans.

War trials

The issue of whether member's of Saddam Hussein's Baath party could be tried for war crimes has proved a contentious one for the US and its coalition partners.

The US recently decided to put Iraqi war crimes suspects on trial in front of a panel of Iraqi judges made up from those not tainted by a role in the old system.

There could also be judges from other countries in the Arab world.

They will not be tried by the recently formed International Criminal Court as it is not recognized by the United States.

The US reportedly feared that large-scale trials in international courts would become bogged down for years with no discernable result.

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