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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 01:41 GMT
How long before Saddam's trial?

By Chris Hogg
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

How long will it be before Saddam Hussein is put on trial?

A year? Eighteen months? For many here in Iraq, it can't come soon enough.

But they may have a long wait.

Firstly there are practical considerations.

Saddam poster attacked
Many Iraqis want Saddam put on trial in Iraq
Saddam is not the only member of the former regime who is likely to face trial for crimes against humanity.

Up to 10 tribunals could end up sitting at the same time, according to the man who's drawn up the statutes for the system, Salam Chalabi, the legal advisor to Iraq's interim administration, the Governing Council.

Security, of course, is a major issue.

Courtrooms will need to be built in safe areas to try to reduce the ability of the insurgency to disrupt the process.

Secure detention facilities will be needed too.

Then there are the political considerations, according to Salam Chalabi.

He has probably not killed a huge number of people with his own hands
Salam Chalabi
Iraqi Governing Council
"Politically, people would want Saddam [to appear in front of the tribunal] first but there are some drawbacks.

"The first potential difficulty is the case against Saddam Hussein.

"He has probably not killed a huge number of people with his own hands. He has most likely ordered the killing."

The chain of command may be difficult to prove, Salam Chalabi said.

"Because of the number of different and serious crimes that were committed during his era the chains of command may be different and so that process may be difficult to do quickly."

'Witch hunt'

Salam Chalabi anticipates that Saddam Hussein will try to put up what he calls "political defences" for his crimes.

But if other defendants are tried first and convicted of war crimes, the evidence from those trials could be used against Saddam, he said.

"It's not a political fight between those who were involved in the previous regime and the population at large.

US Army soldiers
Security remains unstable in Baghdad
"We're going to try to demonstrate that the crimes were committed and those who perpetrated them will be the only ones who will be tried. We don't want this to turn into a witch hunt."

Much attention has focused on how the trials will be conducted.

Five judges will sit on each tribunal.

After the war, a Judicial Review Committee vetted the judges who had been employed by the old regime and 160 out of 700 were removed.

They were either senior members of the Ba'ath Party, corrupt or in a very few cases just no good.

'Decrepit judiciary'

The first 100 Iraqi judges to undergo a two week training programme designed to help them to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes committed by Saddam Hussein's regime graduated last week.

"I'm not saying the Iraqi judiciary is perfect," said Salam Chalabi.

"It's not. The whole system is decrepit in the sense that it's not computerised, it's inefficient, it's not innovative.

"But we realise this and we're trying to handle this by training the judiciary."

We could probably build a case by September
Salam Chalabi
Iraqi Governing Council
So what's the timescale?

The indications are these trials won't get underway as swiftly as some would like.

"Once we have an appropriate detention facility and an appropriate court room structure, we could probably start issuing charges and indictments for a number of people within the next two to three months.

He added: 'The investigative process could probably start in February, I would think, and we could probably build a case by September.

"I would imagine that realistically a tribunal could start trying people around then - but I'm not giving a specific timetable."

Salam Chalabi is keen to stress this is not a Truth and Reconciliation process - such as that seen in South Africa to deal with the crimes of the Apartheid era.

Pro-Saddam protest in Falujah
Saddam still has many supporters
"This is a criminal tribunal. Down the line, once these tribunals start we will move towards some kind of truth and reconciliation structure that would run parallel to this for lower level people but at this stage it's premature."

That view is not shared by all members of Iraq's Governing Council.

One of the Shia leaders on the council, Dr Mowaffaq Al-Rubaie, said Iraq needs what he calls a "massive" campaign of reconciliation.

"This is part of a general healing process in Iraq and we need to start this process immediately.

"I have great respect for the South African experience.

"I would love to have that experience transferred to this country.

"We need to start a process of rehabilitation, psychological rehabilitation, rehabilitation on all fronts."

Healing process

Dr Rubaie accepts, though, that realistically speaking, we're probably talking about a year or more than that before Saddam will be put on trial.

But he said for the good of national unity, it is important that it's not delayed.

"These are crimes this man has committed against the Iraqi people and part and parcel of the healing process and the national reconciliation process is for that man to stand in the box in the court to be tried in Iraq.

"I can tell you the ramifications of this trial are going to be tremendous."

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