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Hearing Set for Aides of Hussein

In Surprise, Process to Start Before Elections

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page A01

BAGHDAD, Dec. 14 -- Judicial proceedings will begin next week against some of the most senior leaders under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Iraq's interim prime minister said Tuesday in a surprise announcement that put the past government's crimes before a country preparing for elections on Jan. 30.

The proceedings are not expected to be the formal start of the trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but rather an investigative hearing for two of Hussein's 11 colleagues in U.S. custody. Hussein, captured a year ago this week and being held at a base near Baghdad's airport, is not expected to be among those brought before the hearing.


Adil Ali, wounded in a car bomb explosion near the Harthiya entrance to the Green Zone, is taken into Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital. The attack, the second in two days near the gate, killed two Iraqis. Seven were reported wounded. (Khalid Mohammed -- AP)

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The date was a surprise, coming just six weeks before the nationwide vote. Iraqi officials say the actual trials will not get underway until 2005, although next week's proceedings are sure to rekindle grim memories of Hussein's 35-year rule.

"I can now tell you clearly and specifically that next week, God willing, the trials of the symbols of the former regime will start, one by one, so that justice can take its course in Iraq," Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told Iraq's interim National Council.

Allawi did not specify who would face the proceedings, but the deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, said last month that among the first to appear would be Watban Ibrahim Hassan, Hussein's half brother, and Ali Hassan Majeed, one of Hussein's closest confidants, who earned the nickname "Chemical Ali" for overseeing chemical weapons attacks that killed thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s.

Given Hussein's long record of brutality, the trial would prove a daunting task in the best of circumstances. It will likely prove even more difficult during the country's precarious attempt to create an elected government. Rule of law is tenuous in Iraq, lawyers for the defendants have complained that the government has denied them access to their clients, and security has proven so fragile that the identities of the judges are being kept secret.

Underscoring the country's insecurity, a car bomb was detonated for the second time in two days near an entrance to the Green Zone, the sprawling, fortified compound along the Tigris River that houses the U.S. Embassy and offices of Iraq's interim government. U.S. military officials said two Iraqis were killed. Doctors at Yarmouk Hospital identified one of the dead as Kassim Mohammed Lazim, a member of the Iraqi National Guard. Seven people were wounded, they said. There were no U.S. casualties.

It was the second day that residents woke up to a mushroom-shaped cloud over the neighborhood of Harthiya. The blast echoed across the river at 8 a.m., the time most children are headed to school, spraying the wreckage of the suicide bomber's car and three other vehicles along the street, which still bore the marks of Monday's blast. The explosion tore concrete out of a 12-foot blast wall and hurled wreckage into trees. The car bomb Monday exploded about the same time, killing at least 11 Iraqis.

"Why do they do it in the morning?" asked Kaiser Abdel-Qadir, a 38-year-old resident. "Don't they have any concern for children going to school at this time?"

At Yarmouk Hospital, one of the wounded, Mustafa Hamad, lay in bed with injuries to his head, chest and abdomen. The National Guard member drifted in and out of consciousness. Next to him was his mother, who wept silently. "He has been in the service only for a short time. Why him?" she asked, her voice soft, as another son stood nearby. "What good does it do them?"

Insurgents have deployed car bombs almost casually in Baghdad, adding another danger in a capital roiled with fears of crime and exhausted by persistent blackouts and gas shortages that have left cars waiting in lines stretching miles beyond filling stations. The violence itself has worked its way into the city's fabric. On the People's Radio, a private station, the announcer opened his 10 a.m. broadcast with these words: "Good morning. Good morning, everybody. I wish you a pleasant life without car bombs."

Along with those bombs, the insurgents have staged hit-and-run attacks, executions and ambushes, often targeting the country's fledgling security forces, seen as a linchpin in U.S. efforts to eventually withdraw troops that will soon number 150,000.

Poland said Tuesday that it would cut its troop strength in Iraq by nearly a third in February as part of long-standing plans to reduce its presence, the Associated Press reported. The 2,400-member contingent will be cut to 1,700, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said in Warsaw.

In the northern city of Mosul, where attempts to intimidate security forces have been especially ferocious, U.S. troops discovered eight more bodies this week, the military said. That brought the number found in the city, Iraq's third largest, to more than 150 since Nov. 10, although it was not certain all were members of security forces.


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