The chief judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial has been replaced, the government spokesman's office confirmed.
There was no immediate word on who would replace Judge Abdullah al-Amiri, nor why he was replaced. The government spokesman's office confirmed that he had been replaced without giving further details.
Al-Iraqiya also did not say why he was replaced, but the pan-Arab satellite stations Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera said al-Amiri was replaced at the request of Iraq's prime minister.
Prosecutors had asked for al-Amiri to be replaced after he allowed Saddam to lash out at Kurdish witnesses. Last week, al-Amiri stirred further controversy after he told the ex-president in court "you were not a dictator."
Earlier Tuesday, a Kurdish witness at Saddam Hussein's trial displayed dark scars on his back Tuesday — evidence of chemical attacks he said were launched in 1988 by Iraqi forces.
Iskandar Mahmoud Abdul-Rahman, a major in the Kurdistan security force, told the court he remembered a foul smelling smoke overtaking him before his eyes burned and he vomited.
As the former president's trial continued, the struggle to prevent Iraq from tumbling into an undeniable state of civil war, and to prop up firmly its young democracy, remained firmly on the shoulders of the U.S. military.
Any doubt about the longevity or seriousness of that mission was challenged Tuesday as the top U.S. commander in the Middle East said the U.S. military will likely maintain the current force levels of more than 140,000 troops in Iraq through next spring.
Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, said the current number of troops "are prudent force levels" that are achieving the needed military effect. Military leaders will increase troop levels and extend the deployments of other units if needed, he said.
His comments came as U.S. political leaders continue to face declining public support for the war in Iraq, as they head into the coming congressional elections.
Late last year, military leaders had said they hoped to reduce troop levels to about 100,000 by the end of 2006. But Abizaid said Tuesday that the rising sectarian violence and slow progress of the Iraqi government made that impossible.
In other developments:
Tuesday's announcement about U.S. troop levels in Iraq demonstrates the difficulty that is being met in ensuring even the short-term survival of that country's young democracy.
"I think that we'll do whatever we have to do to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan and use the military power of the U.S. to do that," Abizaid said.
There are currently 147,000 U.S. forces in Iraq — up more than 20,000 from the troop levels in late June. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld extended the one-year deployment of an Alaska-based brigade in July as part of the effort to stem the escalating violence in Baghdad.
Abizaid said more extensions may be considered. "If it's necessary to do that because the military situation on the ground requires that, we'll do it," he said. "If we have to call in more forces because it's our military judgment that we need more forces, we'll do it."