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Iraqi PM: We'll Get Saddam

The new Iraqi government wants custody of Saddam Hussein and all other prisoners by the time sovereignty is handed over at the end of this month, the interim prime minister said.

U.S. forces have said they will continue to hold up to 5,000 prisoners believed to be a threat to the coalition even after the June 30 restoration of sovereignty.

They say as many as 1,400 detainees will either be released or transferred to Iraqi authorities.

But in an interview with Al-Jazeera television, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Iraqi officials expect to take possession of Saddam 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. "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 timeframe. The detainees and "Saddam as well will be handed to the Iraqi government, and you can consider this as an official confirmation," he added.

Saddam has been in American custody at an undisclosed location in Iraq since his capture last December near Tikrit. His status has been under discussion as the formal end of the U.S.-led occupation approaches.

Last month, the head of the Iraqi war-crimes tribunal said that Saddam will be handed over to Iraqis for trial by July 1. Salem Chalabi told reporters that trials would begin early next year, and that judges would receive "files" on the suspects at the end of this year.

Saddam already has a lawyer: Jacques Verges, an 80-year-old French lawyer known as "The Devil's Advocate" for his spirited defense of infamous clients like a Gestapo chief, a Khmer Rouge commander, Carlos the Jackal and Slobodan Milosevic. Verges told in April that he intends to call Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — who met with Saddam in 1983 when Iraq was a nominal U.S. ally because of its fight against Iran.

The Baghdad-based spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday said coalition authorities must file criminal charges against Saddam or let him go when sovereignty is transferred.

"Any prisoner of war suspected of having committed any type of crime can be charged and tried," said Antonella Notari, chief spokeswoman of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Notari said she wanted to make clear the neutral ICRC has no desire to see the release of any POWs, including Saddam, who are suspected of criminal acts.

"Nobody in the ICRC is calling for the release of Saddam Hussein. Absolutely not," Notari told The Associated Press from the Geneva headquarters of the humanitarian agency, which serves as a watchdog to ensure adherence to the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare.

Earlier Monday the Baghdad-based ICRC spokeswoman, Nada Doumani, told Associated Press Television News that under international and military law, Saddam and other prisoners of war and civilian prisoners should be released at the end of the conflict and occupation unless there were charges against them.

Notari said the ICRC was unable to speculate on what would happen July 1 because it didn't know how the United States would proceed with the handover of sovereignty.

"We're not making any ultimatums or calls for release," Notari said. "What we're saying is: Saddam Hussein, as far as we understand today, is a POW, prisoner of war, protected by the third Geneva Convention as all prisoners of war are.

"In theory, when a war ends and when an occupation ends, the detaining force has to release prisoners of war or civilian detainees if there are no reasons for holding them."

But that assumes they were just interned because they were combatants participating in a war.

Although Iraqis will run their own affairs after June 30, tens of thousands of coalition 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 of sovereignty, detainees held by the Iraqi authorities will be subject to Iraqi law.

"Now, of course, a prisoner of war who is suspected of having committed a crime must not just be released," Notari said. "Of course, he must be prosecuted, tried, through a legal proceeding.

She said it was up to U.S. authorities to decide what they will do about Saddam.

"If they continue to hold him at some stage they will have to charge him," Notari said. "They can also hand him over to the Iraqis, who can charge him and try him."

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