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Iraqi govt seeks to stop Saddam judge quitting
Updated: 2006-01-16 08:53

Iraqi officials were trying to persuade the chief judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein not to resign on Sunday after he announced he would quit in protest at government interference with the court.

"The court has dispatched a senior judge today to visit him and try to dissuade him from resigning," one of the trial prosecutors, Mumkidh Taklif al-Fatlawi, said. "They are afraid of the damage this will do to the credibility of the tribunal."

Quoting an official statement to prosecutors from the court administration, he told Reuters: "Judge Rizgar Amin has tendered his resignation and according to the tribunal statutes it was referred to the cabinet. The matter is still undecided."

Presiding Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin speaks to the court at the trial of Saddam Hussein and seven of his aides in Baghdad in this December 5, 2005 file photo.
Presiding Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin speaks to the court at the trial of Saddam Hussein and seven of his aides in Baghdad in this December 5, 2005 file photo.[Reuters/file]
The killings of two defence lawyers have already prompted questions over the U.S.-backed decision to hold the trial in the midst of bitter sectarian and ethnic conflict.

A source close to Amin told Reuters officials were visiting him in his Kurdish home city of Sulaimaniya and trying to talk him out of quitting but he was reluctant to stay because Shi'ite leaders had criticised him for being "soft" on Saddam in court.

"He tendered his resignation to the court a few days ago ... I am not sure if he will go back on his decision," said the source. "He had complaints from the government that he was being too soft in dealing with Saddam. They want things to go faster."

The judge planned to explain his reasons for resigning after chairing the next hearing on January 24, the source said.

Though Amin has made his feelings clear he has not commented publicly and it remains unclear whether he truly wants to quit or is using this as a threat to fend off government pressure.

Government and tribunal spokesmen were not available.


Technically the departure of the presiding magistrate on the five-judge panel can be overcome by simple substitution. But even if he stays, the complaints about government interference from Amin, the much-televised face of the court, may do lasting damage to the credibility of the U.S.-sponsored High Tribunal.

Only one other judge has allowed his face to be shown on television -- and only Amin has let his name be published.

The killings of the defence lawyers had already highlighted problems with the process amid a virtual civil war between Saddam's fellow minority Sunni Arabs and the U.S.- sponsored government, run by Shi'ite Muslims and ethnic Kurds intent on quickly hanging a man they say massacred their peoples.

International human rights lawyers have urged U.S. officials and the Iraqi government to have Saddam tried abroad.

"The defence team has long warned about the dangers of political pressure that has undermined the court's independence," Saddam's lead attorney, Khalil Dulaimi, told Reuters, praising the "high moral authority" of the chief judge.

Miranda Sissons, who has observed the trial for the International Center for Transitional Justice, said that if Amin quits, "public faith in the tribunal will ... disappear".

The trial has sat seven times since October 19. Saddam and seven others are charged with crimes against humanity for killing Shi'ite villagers after an assassination bid in 1982.

Other trials, including for genocide, are likely to follow.

After hearings last month, some observers criticised Amin for allowing Saddam and his co-defendants to speak at length, making allegations, including of maltreatment at American hands.

The judge, whose dry wit and courteous manner have been features of the proceedings so far, rejected the criticism.

Prosecutor Fatlawi said Amin had complained that his main sanction for disciplining the defendants -- barring them from the courtroom -- was a double-edged sword that would dent public confidence in the court if the trial played to an empty dock.


While the U.S. military is holding Saddam for prosecution by the tribunal, it is also holding more than 14,000 people, most of them suspected of taking part in the Sunni Arab insurgency.

There were 14,105 detainees after some 500 were released on Sunday, including two journalists who work for Reuters who had been held for several months without charge. The news agency has called on the military to deal more speedily with suspicions against journalists arising from their coverage of the conflict.

The U.S. government hopes a consensus government will emerge after a parliamentary election on December 15 that can quell violence and allow U.S. troops to begin withdrawing this year.

A military spokesman, Brigadier General Donald Alston, warned on Sunday that violence could increase, however, when final results are released in the next week or so, given disappointment among Sunnis with continued Shi'ite dominance.

Al Qaeda in Iraq said it was forming an alliance with five smaller Islamist militant groups as the Mujahideen Council.

Several policemen and soldiers were killed on Sunday.

Foreign experts studying Sunni complaints of fraud said they would release their final report on January 19. That would pave the way for the Electoral Commission to publish final results.

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