Iraq's Premier Urges a Speedy Trial for Hussein

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

BAGHDAD, Oct. 17 -- Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari called Monday for a quick trial for former president Saddam Hussein, whose alleged victims include a brother and four other male relatives of Jafari. Proceedings open Wednesday in a courtroom here.

Also Monday, Iraq's electoral commission reported what it called "unusually high" vote counts in many provinces in Saturday's national referendum on a new constitution. It said it would audit suspicious results.

Jafari, who during Hussein's rule lived in exile as a Shiite Muslim opposition leader, is one of a number of figures in the current Shiite and Kurdish coalition government who have pressed for quickly trying Hussein, who was captured almost two years ago.

Speaking to reporters at a dinner breaking the daily fast of the holy month of Ramadan, Jafari said: "The Saddam trial is not a research project." The question for the court "is simply, has this man committed crimes? If so, that needs to be established quickly."

Iraqis "would not want the trial to be derailed," the prime minister said. "It's been a long time since Saddam has been arrested. It begs the question: Why the delay?"

"People want justice for a man who directly caused three wars and killed thousands of people," Jafari said. "To see him sitting there puts some pressure on us."

The case opening on Wednesday accuses Hussein and his co-defendants in the executions of 143 people from the Shiite town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt against him there in 1982.

Hussein's government routinely jailed, tortured and killed perceived critics and challengers.

Jafari has said that the former president's security forces arrested and executed his brother and four cousins, apparently owing to suspicions of links to Jafari's formerly banned Dawa opposition party.

Hussein's forces also arrested and tortured other relatives of Jafari because of their suspected links to him, he said Monday. He changed his name to Jafari, abandoning his family name, in hopes of deflecting attacks on his relatives, he said.

Nevertheless, "I don't personalize this," Jafari said. He said that he would take no personal satisfaction if Hussein were hanged and that he wanted the trial to be fair. Actions against members of Jafari's family do not figure in the charges Hussein faces in the trial.

In discussing Saturday's referendum, Jafari said security forces had thwarted six attempted car bombings in Baghdad the day before and the day of the voting.

Some Sunni Arab officials have said they suspect fraud in the vote, which preliminary results show approved a constitution drafted by the Shiite-Kurd coalition and backed by the United States. Shiites and Kurds largely voted for the proposed charter, while Sunni Arabs, who dominated Iraq in the Hussein years, turned out in force to vote no.

Iraq's electoral commission announced that numbers from most provinces "were unusually high according to the international standards" and so would "require us to recheck, compare and audit them." The commission said it would randomly recheck some ballot boxes.

An official with knowledge of the election process told the Associated Press that in some areas the ratio of "yes" to "no" votes seemed far higher or lower than would be expected. The official cautioned that it was too early to say whether the figures were incorrect.

The commission and the official did not say which regions had the questioned returns.

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