By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 15, 2006
BAGHDAD, Jan. 14 -- The chief judge presiding over the trial of Saddam Hussein submitted his resignation last week after coming under public criticism for the way he was handling the courtroom, another judge involved in the case said Saturday.
For two days, rumors have circulated that Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin had resigned. Two other judges told news agencies that he had not. But Hussein Mussawi, a judge involved with the case, said Amin had quit after all.
"This is true," Mussawi said of Amin's resignation in an interview broadcast on al-Arabiya television Saturday evening. "The reason is, there is a lot of pressure on the judge."
Asked what kind of pressure, Mussawi said: "Public pressure."
Many Iraqis, some of them members of the government, had criticized Amin for allowing Hussein to dominate the court proceedings. The deposed dictator has frequently interrupted the trial to make fervent speeches in which he accused witnesses of lying and his jailers of mistreating him, and called the court "a stooge of the occupation."
Amin has often allowed Hussein's theatrics. Critics have suggested that he take a firmer hand with Hussein, who faces charges related to the killings of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in 1982 and the torture and imprisonment of hundreds more from the village of Dujail, 35 miles north of Baghdad.
Shiites and Kurds, two groups that suffered heavily during the Hussein era, have been particularly infuriated with Amin.
Mussawi insisted the pressure put on Amin was not political and rejected suggestions that Ibrahim Jafari, Iraq's prime minister and a Shiite, was trying to force him out or influence the handling of the case.
But at least one Iraqi official said he believed otherwise.
"The whole court is under political pressure," a source close to Amin told the Reuters news agency, adding that Amin submitted his resignation last week. "He had complaints from the government that he was being too soft in dealing with Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants. They want things to go faster."
Government officials were unavailable for comment Saturday, which was the last day of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice.
Mussawi said others were trying to persuade Amin to reconsider, and a Western diplomat said he would not believe the news until Amin or a high-ranking government official made a public statement on the matter.
"We certainly hope and expect that the trial will continue without delay," said the Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. "This is not the first time this issue has come up, and it's important to hear from the judge himself or the Ministry of Information."
"I think he will go back on his decision," Mussawi said. "A lot of people are talking to him to try to change his mind." Mussawi said that if Amin stepped down, another judge on the five-member panel would replace him as chief.
Outside this political tempest, most Iraqis enjoyed a fifth straight day free of major attacks by insurgents in the country.
However, gunmen assassinated a Shiite cleric in northern Baghdad, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. military authorities also reported that a Marine was killed by gunfire Friday in Ramadi, a restive city in western Iraq.
Meanwhile, a British freelance journalist recounted in several newspapers Saturday how he had been inadvertently rescued by U.S. troops five days after he was kidnapped in Iraq on Dec. 26.
No one in authority, not even the newspapers he had worked for, had realized Phil Sands, 28, was missing when American troops on a routine mission raided the house in which he was being held hostage.
Another freelance journalist, Jill Carroll, 28, is still missing a week after she was kidnapped by gunmen in Baghdad's Adil neighborhood.
Correspondent Ellen Knickmeyer and special correspondent Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.