Iraq's interim prime minister said Monday that the United States would hand over former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and all other detainees to Iraq's new government over the next two weeks, as the transfer of administrative power is effected.
U.S. officials have said they plan to continue to hold up to 5,000 prisoners deemed a threat to U.S.-led forces even after administrative powers are handed over at the end of this month. Occupation officials have said that as many as 1,400 detainees will be either released or transferred to Iraqi authorities.
The interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, however, said in an interview on the al-Jazeera satellite television network that Iraqi officials expected to take custody of Hussein and all other detainees with the transfer of power.
"All the detainees will be transferred to the Iraqi authorities, and the transporting operation will be done within the two coming weeks," Allawi said on the Arabic-language network. "Saddam and the others will be delivered to the Iraqis."
He said the former Iraqi president would stand trial "as soon as possible," but gave no specific timetable. The detainees and "Saddam as well will be handed to the Iraqi government, and you can consider this as an official confirmation," he said.
Hussein has been in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location since his capture last December near Tikrit, about 90 miles north of Baghdad. His status has been under discussion as the formal end of the U.S.-led occupation approaches.
A spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad said occupation authorities must file criminal charges against Hussein or let him go when sovereignty is transferred.
Under international and military law, prisoners of war and civilian internees are to be freed at the end of conflict and occupation unless there are charges against them, Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani said.
The former Iraqi leader was granted prisoner of war status after his capture, and no criminal charges have been filed against him.
In Geneva, the chief spokeswoman for the Red Cross, Antonella Notari, said that "a prisoner of war who is suspected of having committed a crime must not just be released. Of course, he must be prosecuted, tried, through a legal proceeding."
She said it was up to U.S. authorities to decide whether to charge Hussein or hand him over to Iraqis for trial.
Although Iraq's interim government will assume administrative powers on June 30, an estimated 138,000 U.S. troops will remain in the country to maintain security under a resolution approved unanimously last week by the U.N. Security Council. After the handover, detainees held by the Iraqi authorities will be subject to Iraqi law.