Leaders in Saddam Hussein's regime will go on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes as early as next week, Iraq's interim premier says.
Saddam Hussein is being held at a US base near Baghdad
Iyad Allawi said that the "symbols" of the former regime would be tried "one by one" but gave few details.
There was no indication when Saddam Hussein himself would face trial.
Observers believe the trials will last months and some say the timing of the announcement was linked to elections planned for January.
Mr Allawi's statement to Iraqi's National Council appeared to take both the justice ministry and the US embassy in Baghdad by surprise, the BBC's Caroline Hawley reports from the Iraqi capital.
In Washington, US state department spokesman Richard Boucher suggested that a hearing for the accused might take place next week "but not the actual trial".
Saddam Hussein was captured by US troops a year ago this week, near his home town of Tikrit. He and 11 aides are in US custody awaiting trial under the special tribunal set up after the US-led invasion.
A cousin of the ousted leader, Izz al-Din al-Majid, was captured in the restive city of Falluja last week, Mr Allawi also announced. The charges against Mr Majid, who lived several years as an exile in the UK before returning to Iraq, are unclear.
In other developments on Tuesday:
- Poland announces it will cut the size of its force in Iraq from 2,500 troops to 1,700 in mid-February while the US says its troop numbers will rise from 138,000 to 150,000 ahead of the 30 January elections
- A car bomb injures at least 12 outside a Baghdad National Guard facility, and 14 men are found shot dead in Mosul
- Iraqi police say they killed Hassan Ibrahim Farhan, described as a senior aide to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and captured two other suspects on Monday
- The UN refugee agency announces it is closing several of its camps in Iran for Iraqi refugees.
Lawyers representing the members of the old regime have said their clients will not recognise the legitimacy of any courts established under US occupation.
Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin said Saddam Hussein was being held at Camp Cropper, a US base near Baghdad.
The US military has never confirmed where the former president is being held there but the detention centre is viewed as being the only site secure enough to hold him in Iraq.
Mr Amin said Saddam Hussein was being treated well, with medical visits twice a day, and he added that the prisoner ate "chicken,
fish and meat every day".
Eleven senior regime figures are also being held in US custody at a secret location.
They include former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali for his role in gas attacks on northern Iraq during the offensive against the Kurds in 1987.
Defence lawyers say they have had no chance to meet their clients, let alone prepare a defence, and they argue that to begin the trials now would be a miscarriage of justice.