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Saddam's defense minister faces hearing
Updated: 2004-12-17 20:44

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein's defense minister, who surrendered to American forces last year, will appear alongside another notorious general ! known as Chemical Ali ! when investigative trials open next week, an official said Friday.

Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad, who gave himself up in September 2003 at a coalition military base in the northern city of Mosul, will be among the first two to face the hearings, which interim Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Minister Ayad Allawi announced will commence next week.

An Iraqi government official said on Thursday that Saddam's notorious former right-hand man, Ali Hassan al-Majid ! known as Chemical Ali for his use of chemical weapons ! would head the list of 11 top regime members to appear at the initial investigative court hearings.

"Chemical Ali and Sultan will be the first to face the hearings," the official, who is familiar with the proceedings, told The Associated Press.

Ahmad was No. 27 on America's list of 55 most-wanted regime figures. He surrendered on Sept. 19, 2003, to Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who was then the commander of the 101st Airborne Brigade.

Ahmad is in U.S. military custody at an undisclosed location in Baghdad.

During the 1991 Gulf War, Ahmad, then a lieutenant general, served as deputy chief of staff. He headed the Iraqi delegation at cease-fire talks.

Ahmad was responsible for persuading Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to allow Iraq to use military helicopters on official business. The allies came to regret that decision later when the Iraqis used helicopters to quell rebellious Shiites in Basra and Kurds in the north.

The Kurdish mediator instrumental in bringing Ahmad said at the time of the surrender that the deal was sealed after the Americans agreed to remove his name from the 55 most-wanted list, a move that would have seen him released without trial after his initial questioning ended.

It was not immediately clear if the alleged arrangements remained in place.

Saddam, 67, will not be among the group to appear in next week's court hearings, which will be open to some media representatives, the AP has learned.

The former Iraqi president met with a defense attorney Thursday for the first time since his capture a year ago. The unidentified attorney spent four hours with the former dictator at Saddam's undisclosed detention site.

"He was in good health and his morale was high and very strong," his chief lawyer, Ziad al-Khasawneh, said in Jordan's capital of Amman. "He looked much better that his earlier public appearance when he was arraigned a few months ago."

The Iraqi interim government's push to get the trials for Saddam's former lieutenants under way before the Jan. 30 national elections has led to dissent even within the Iraqi Cabinet.

"Trials as symbolic as those against the dignitaries of the former regime should only start after the establishment of an Iraqi government with ballot-box legitimacy," Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan told the Geneva daily newspaper Le Temps in an interview published Thursday.

Meanwhile, with six weeks of campaigning left ahead of the crucial vote for a 275-member assembly, interim President Ghazi al-Yawer predicted regional and international interests will spend millions of dollars to influence the balloting ! a statement aimed primarily at Iran and Syria.

"There are many parties, regional and international, who want to serve their own interests and they want to have friends in power in Iraq," al-Yawer said. "We think that millions of dollars will be spent on the elections process from outside the country. We hope that this will not happen and that the money and the decisions will be Iraqi."

Al-Yawer's comments came a day after Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan accused Iran and Syria of supporting terrorism in Iraq.

Allawi and U.S. Gen. George Casey, the chief of the multinational force in Iraq, separately accused Syria on Thursday of hosting former Saddam regime members involved in backing Iraq's insurgency.

Syrian Foreign Ministry angrily rejected the accusations as "baseless."

"Syria sees the repeat of fabricated accusations as reflecting the wish of some people to hide the real reasons behind the deterioration of the situation in Iraq, and to mislead the public opinion," the ministry said in a statement.

Elsewhere, a U.S. Marine was killed in action Thursday while conducting security and stabilization operations in the volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad, the military said.

Insurgents killed 10 people Thursday, including Qassim Mehawi, deputy head of the Communications Ministry.

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