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Iraqi: US delaying Saddam interrogations
(Agencies)
Updated: 2005-06-22 08:34

Iraq's justice minister accused the United States on Tuesday of trying to hinder the Iraqi investigation of Saddam Hussein by limiting his access to interrogators, and said "it seems there are lots of secrets they want to hide."

Justice Minister Abdel Hussein Shandal also said he was confident investigators would wrap up the case against Saddam by the end of the year, underlining the Iraqi government's determination to try the ousted leader soon though Shandal acknowledged he himself has no say in the timing of the trial.

Iraq's Justice Minister Abdel Hussein Shandal gestures while speaking with the media at a hotel in Brussels, Tuesday June 21, 2005. Shandal said Tuesday that U.S. officials are trying to delay interrogations of Saddam Hussein and accused the U.S. of concealing information about the ousted Iraqi leader. (AP
Iraq's Justice Minister Abdel Hussein Shandal gestures while speaking with the media at a hotel in Brussels, Tuesday June 21, 2005. Shandal said Tuesday that U.S. officials are trying to delay interrogations of Saddam Hussein and accused the U.S. of concealing information about the ousted Iraqi leader.[AP]
In response, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said "the United States views the trials of Iraqi officials as a process that is under the authority of the Iraqi government, and will proceed according to decisions that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Special Tribunal make.

"That's what's going to determine the pace and timing of this process, not the United States government," Ereli said in Washington.

The Americans privately have urged caution about rushing into a trial, saying Iraq must develop a good court and judicial system one of the main topics of discussion at an international conference on Iraq that was to begin Wednesday in Brussels.

U.S. officials say there are also concerns a trial could interfere with the important process of writing a constitution and inflame sectarian tension. The Iraqi government must finish a draft by mid-August so it can hold a referendum on the charter ahead of December elections for a full-term government.

Saddam, 68, has been jailed under American control at a U.S. military detention complex near Baghdad airport.

The Iraqi Special Tribunal, which was appointed by the now-defunct U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, is overseeing the court proceedings in Baghdad. The tribunal has interrogated Saddam and recently released a video of his questioning without sound.

An official at the tribunal's press office stressed it was an independent body and that no date had been set for Saddam's trial.

"The interrogation of Saddam is taking place regularly and almost daily and neither the justice minister, nor the Americans, have anything to do with it because the IST is an independent court," the official said. "Saddam's trial will start as soon as the investigation finishes."

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, also said events are taking place in stages and as scheduled.

But Shandal said he was speaking with the authority of a Cabinet minister who personally nominated several of the judges on the tribunal and was in close contact with the investigators.

Shandal alleged that U.S. officials are trying to limit access to Saddam because they have their own secrets to protect, including funneling money and support to the Iraqi leader during his rule.

"It seems there are lots of secrets they want to hide," Shandal said.

"There should be transparency and there should be frankness, but there are secrets that if revealed, won't be in the interest of many countries," he said. "Who was helping Saddam all those years?"

Saddam faces charges that include killing rival politicians over 30 years, gassing Kurds in the northern town of Halabja in 1988, invading Kuwait in 1990, and suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991. Shandal said he also would face charges related to the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said later Tuesday he hoped the trial would take place "sooner" than the end of the year.

Zebari said investigators already have "an abundance of evidence of the crimes of Saddam. ... We don't need any further evidence."

Giovanni di Stefano, one of several lawyers defending Saddam, said the Iraqi government should not discuss the trial.

"The Iraqi government should desist from making political statements," di Stefano told reporters in Rome. "They lose their credibility," he said. "I am astounded at the naivety of politicians."

The tribunal in the past has criticized government officials for suggesting that a timetable had been set. The government said in early June that Saddam's trial would start in two months.



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