Iraq nabs nearly 900 suspected militants
The Iraqi government announced Monday it detained nearly 900 suspected militants and set up more than 800 checkpoints in a two-week sweep that appears to have somewhat blunted attacks in the capital.
Also, a list obtained Monday shows Saddam Hussein will be charged with a range of war crimes when he goes on trial, probably within the next two months.
Iraqi officials believe offensives like Operation Lightning, along with the deposed dictator's trial, could help deflate the insurgency being waged by Saddam loyalists and Islamic extremists.
More than 840 people have died in the violence since the government was announced April 28, but the daily death toll has fallen slightly in the past three days.
Iraq's first freely elected government in more than 50 years replaced Saddam's regime, which had long suppressed Shiite and Kurdish communities in favor of minority Sunni Arabs.
The Sunni fall from power has been considered a major cause of the violence, which persisted late Sunday and early Monday. Mortar attacks and drive-by shootings killed nine Iraqis and two militants.
The latest figures released from Operation Lightning, which began May 22 in Baghdad, included at least 887 arrests and the establishment around Baghdad of 608 mobile and 194 permanent checkpoints. Also, 38 weapon stores were raided.
The operation is the biggest Iraqi-led offensive since Saddam's ouster two years ago. Before it began, authorities controlled only eight of Baghdad's 23 entrances. Now all are under government control.
According to a list obtained Monday, Saddam ¡ª who was captured in December 2003 ¡ª will be tried on alleged war crimes ranging from gassing thousands of Kurds and suppressing a Shiite uprising to executing religious and political foes during his 23-year reign.
The man who once ruled Iraq with an iron fist will likely take the stand behind a bulletproof glass dock in a custom-made court room, reportedly being built inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, the base of Iraq's government and home to the U.S. Embassy.
Saddam's lawyers lashed out at Iraqi government plans to start the trial within two months and complained about a lack of access to Saddam and 11 other top members of his toppled regime, who are incarcerated in a U.S.-run facility near Baghdad airport.
According to the list obtained by the AP from the special tribunal, among the cases Saddam was responsible for are:
- The execution of at least 50 Iraqis in 1982 in Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt against Saddam. Five men, including Saddam's half brother, were indicted Feb. 28 in the Dujail killings and it probably will be the first case to come to trial.
- The killing and deporting of 8,000 members of the Kurdish Barzani tribe.
- The 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja that killed an estimated 5,000 people.
- The seven-month occupation of Kuwait that was ended by the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War.
- The 1991 suppression of a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq.
- The execution of prominent religious and political figures. No details were provided on that allegation, but after Saddam grabbed the presidency in 1979, he allegedly killed potential rivals in the now outlawed Baath Party.
Saddam also is expected to be tried over the 1987-88 Anfal campaign in northern Kurdistan, which according to a top human rights official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Salah Rashid, led to the deaths of about 182,000 Kurds and the destruction of "dozens of Kurdish villages."
Iraqis are desperate for Saddam's trial to start and, more importantly, to end, said Laith Kuba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. It would, he argued, close the door on an ugly period of Iraq's history.
"The prime minister has picked up many messages from the public, who are saying things like 'why the delay in putting Saddam Hussein on trial,'" Kuba said. "He (al-Jaafari) has met with the judges and asked: Is there a delay in the process, and where are we on the process?"
If held within two months, the trial would begin in the middle of another milestone in Iraq's post-Saddam reconstruction ¡ª the final stages of drafting a new constitution. The charter must be completed by Aug. 15 and approved in a referendum two months later.
The impact of both events taking place simultaneously remains unclear, but they guarantee intense international attention and could further increase tensions in this volatile country.
In Jordan, Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Duleimi, criticized Iraq' government for speeding up the trial. "A fair and just trial needs a period of no less than a year to review all the papers, which are said to weigh 36 tons," he said.
Al-Duleimi also warned the government about publicizing the charges his client will face. "If Saddam was charged in the absence of his lawyer, this is a violation of Geneva Conventions and international agreements," he said.
Al-Duleimi last visited Saddam on April 27 and said the former dictator was unaware of the 14 broad cases. Despite his solitary detention, Saddam remains in "high spirits," the lawyer added.
But last week, chief trial judge Raid Juhi said Saddam "suffered a collapse in his morale because he understands the extent of the charges against him."