Saddam Hussein will be tried in connection with 12 of the best-documented crimes among more than 500 allegedly committed by the former Iraqi dictator, the prime minister's spokesman said Sunday.
Laith Kubba, the spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, also appeared to confirm recent statements by Iraqi officials that Hussein's trial would begin within two months. "I think it is true, and there is no objection that it takes place in that short period," Kubba said at a news conference in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
Hussein, who ruled Iraq from 1979 until his ouster by U.S. forces in April 2003, has been held at an undisclosed facility since he was captured eight months after the fall of his government. Last July, he was arraigned in Baghdad on several broad counts, including the assassination of political opponents and the use of chemical weapons against ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq. For nearly a year, however, it has been unclear when he would be tried and what the specific charges would be.
Kubba said Sunday that while Hussein stood accused of more then 500 crimes, the Iraqi government would try him for 12. Kubba did not specify what the charges would be other than to say they would include "the crimes of northern Iraq."
"There is no time to waste on 500 cases," Kubba said.
A judge in Hussein's case said in an interview published Saturday that the jailed ex-president's morale had plummeted as he came to grips with the scope and seriousness of the possible charges against him. Judge Raeed Juhi told the London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat that Hussein faced 12 charges that could carry penalties of life imprisonment or execution.
At his news conference, Kubba also said Iraqi forces had been successful in the first week of a security crackdown in the capital, called Operation Lightning.
"The citizens in Baghdad feel the clear decrease in the level of crimes," Kubba said. He cited improvement in the performance of the security authorities but acknowledged that "there are mistakes that are happening."
Stressing the importance that the Iraqi government has placed on quelling violence, Kubba said: "There is no peaceful solution. The government is aware that destroying these networks is its main and first goal."
When officials announced Operation Lighting at the end of last month, they said it would involve 40,000 Iraqi security personnel and that more than 600 new checkpoints would be erected in and around Baghdad. While anecdotal evidence suggests that the scale of the operation has been considerably smaller than initially stated, insurgent attacks in the capital have subsided in recent days and officials have reported hundreds of arrests both in Baghdad and to the immediate south.
Early Sunday morning, Iraqi police and soldiers raided the Jurf Sakhar area, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, sparking a firefight with insurgents that lasted five hours, according to Qais Hamza, police chief of Babil province. Ten guerrillas were arrested along with weapons and explosives, and six policemen were wounded in the clash, Hamza said.
In addition, a sweep by U.S. forces south of Baghdad resulted in the detention of 200 people in two days, military spokesmen said.
Special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.