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Last Updated: Friday, 23 January, 2004, 15:57 GMT
Secrecy still circles POW Saddam
Saddam Hussein, pictured shaved after his arrest
The Red Cross is still hopeful of visiting Saddam Hussein
The fate of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein remains shrouded in mystery, almost six weeks after his capture.

The US-led coalition in Iraq has provided scant information about his whereabouts or the conditions under which he is being kept.

The Red Cross, which applied to see the former leader two weeks ago, said it had not yet agreed a date for a visit with the coalition authorities.

But a spokesman said he was "fairly hopeful" a visit would go ahead.

Florian Westphal of the Middle East and Africa section of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told BBC News Online that he assumed the coalition countries would live up to their obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

Basic food rations should keep prisoners in good health
Suitable clothing should be supplied, preferably prisoners' original uniforms
Prisoners to be protected from violence or intimidation and against "insults and public curiosity"

Washington says it has classified Saddam Hussein as a prisoner of war, meaning that he is entitled to full rights under the conventions.

The ICRC says this means it may ask to visit him and to assess the conditions under which he is being held and his state of health - including whether he has been tortured.

It also hopes to be able to pass messages between him and his remaining family.

The group says it wants to visit the prisoner as soon as possible, but it may be some time before this happens.

"I think the Red Cross knows that it often has to wait weeks if not months," former Financial Times journalist and Iraq expert Simon Henderson told BBC News Online.

"In the meantime I'm sure the US is interrogating him so as to dismantle the resistance network of his former supporters. I assume he is still in Iraq, probably in Baghdad."

One of the US commanders in Iraq, Major-General Raymond Odierno, said on Thursday that Saddam Hussein's capture had been a "major defeat" for regime loyalists who were being "brought to their knees".

He said there had been a significant decline in the number of attacks on US troops since the 13 December capture of the ex-president near his home town of Tikrit.

'Not very co-operative'

But US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the task of eliciting information from the former dictator was proving difficult.

[Saddam Hussein] realises the difficulties that he is in and what is facing him - so he's trying to protect himself
Colin Powell
US Secretary of State
"Well, he is talking to us," he said in an interview for Australian television on Monday.

"I can't say he's being co-operative. He realises that he will be facing trial. He realises the difficulties that he is in and what is facing him.

"So he's trying to protect himself."

Mr Powell added that it would take some time to put in place a system to "deal with" the former leader.

It would be best to try him after the coalition hands over power to the Iraqis in July, he said.

Some members of the Iraqi Governing Council have been angered by the decision to give Saddam Hussein prisoner-of-war status and are calling for him to go in front of an Iraqi war crimes tribunal as early as June.

The US military is also considering filling in the concealed hole where the former leader was found hiding.

"In order to avoid making it a tourist attraction and/or a shrine, we believe the best course of action is to eliminate it," spokesman Master Sergeant Robert Cargie said.

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