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Chief Judge In Saddam Trial Quits

The chief judge who resigned from handling the Saddam Hussein trial amid claims of government interference is expected to be replaced by his deputy, the top Iraqi investigator in the case said Tuesday.

Judge Raid Juhi, who investigated Saddam before his trial started but is not one of the judges trying the deposed Iraqi leader, said the court was set up under a law stipulating the chief judge's deputy would take over for him if need be. Saad al-Hamash is the second-ranking member of the five-judge tribunal headed by Rizgar Mohammed Amin.

The tribunal said Amin wanted to quit for "personal reasons" and not because of government pressure. His resignation was not expected to prevent the trial from resuming Jan. 24 as scheduled.

Also Tuesday, violence flared in Baghdad and in the northern city of Kirkuk, with gunmen killing at least eight Iraqis, including a senior army commander and his brother.

Col. Hussein Shiaa, commander of the 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi Army's 4th Brigade, and his brother were abducted Sunday when they were leaving their base in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, said army intelligence officer Capt. Ibrahim Abdullah. Their bodies were found riddled with bullet wounds Tuesday in western Baghdad's dangerous al-Baiyaa district.

A police lieutenant was also gunned down in his car while driving through al-Baiyaa Tuesday morning, according to Lt. Mutaz Salahuldin. Two hours later, drive-by gunmen shot dead three more men, including an auto mechanic and his son, in the same area.

In other developments:

  • In southern Iraq, the governor of Basra accused Iranian naval forces of killing one Iraqi sailor and capturing nine others during a skirmish Saturday near the Shatt al-Arab waterway, or Arvand River. Gov. Mohammed al-Waeli said the clash occurred after an Iraqi Navy ship spotted a suspicious merchant vessel flying an Iraqi flag and carrying smuggled Iraqi diesel.
  • In comments Tuesday aimed at curbing the rampant violence, President Jalal Talabani predicted Iraq's most prominent Sunni Arab political group would form part of a national unity government once Dec. 15 election results were announced. No date has been set for the results' release. "We are keen that the government does not only include Kurds and Shiites but also the Accordance Front and other blocs," Talabani told reporters during a press conference in Baghdad.
  • Iraq's electoral commission said Monday that it is throwing out votes from 227 ballot boxes in last month's parliamentary elections because of fraud, a tiny percentage of the total vote that shouldn't greatly affect overall results. Iraqis cast ballots at about 6,200 voting centers across the country Dec. 15, and there were an average of five ballot boxes at each. So 227 ballot boxes would be about two-thirds of 1 percent of the total vote, which was estimated at about 11 million ballots.
  • In Kirkuk, masked gunmen killed two people and wounded three in attacks on the regional headquarters of Iraq's anti-corruption Integrity Commission and the nearby offices of the Kurdistan People's Party, said police Capt. Farhad al-Talabani. Police suspect the attacks were linked.
  • Two Iraqi policewomen were abducted in eastern Baghdad's Sadr City while waiting for a bus to take them to work, said police Lt. Laith Abdul Al said.
  • The U.S. military said its troops shot dead two Iraqis near Samarra on Monday who failed to stop a tractor they were driving close to a checkpoint. Lt. Col. Ed Loomis said the shootings happened after soldiers saw what appeared to be gunfire flashes coming from the vehicle.

    Saddam and seven co-defendants are accused in the slayings of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail in 1982. His trial recessed on Dec. 22 after two days of testimony. Conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.

    Amin would be the second judge to step down in the case. Another panel member removed himself in late November because one of the co-defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother.

    Since the trial opened Oct. 19, two defense lawyers also have been assassinated and a third has fled the country. Police also uncovered a plot to fire rockets at the courtroom in late November.