Iraq’s government will bring formal charges against Saddam Hussein tomorrow, after taking legal custody of the notorious strongman but leaving him physically in American hands.
In his first move since the Monday handover of sovereignty, Iyad Allawi, the prime minister, said Mr Hussein would be charged in an Iraqi court tomorrow, an event that could provide the first appearance of Mr Hussein since he was captured in December.
The announcement, so soon after the handover, appeared designed to rally support for the new government by reminding Iraqis of Mr Hussein’s brutal rule. The former president’s trial, which will be public, may not begin before next year. “We will show that justice will prevail,” said Mr Allawi. “We want to put this bad history behind us and to move with the spirit of national unity and reconciliation.”
While the interim Iraqi government will take legal custody of Mr Hussein and 11 other high-profile prisoners, the US-led multinational force will remain responsible for guarding the prison where he will be held.
“At our request, the multinational forces will continue to maintain physical custody of them until Iraq’s correction service is fully capable for providing for their safety and secure detention,” Mr Allawi said.
Mr Hussein would be charged with crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes before a special Iraqi tribunal.
The arrest warrants issued by the tribunal were for Mr Hussein’s top lieutenants, including Ali Hassan al-Majid – “Chemical Ali” – who is accused of ordering chemical weapons attacks on Iraqi Kurds, and Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister.
Britain, which opposes the death penalty, today is expected to go a step further than the US and hand over both physical and legal custody of Mr Majid, their highest profile detainee, in spite of the risk he could face execution. The new Iraqi government has decided to retain the death penalty.
British officials said they had little choice. The UK’s powers of detention over prisoners captured during the Iraq war ended with the handover of sovereignty, so Mr Majid would either have to be set free or custody must be transfered to the Iraqis.
The fate of thousands of “security detainees” captured since the US invaded Iraq remains less clear. In spite of the scrutiny surrounding US detention policies since photographs of US soldiers brutalising Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison emerged earlier this year, the US intends to retain custody of most of its Iraqi prisoners.