Kurd Judge Named Saddam Trial Chief

The two top judges in the Saddam Hussein trial have been replaced one day before the hearings resume after more than a four-week break, an Iraqi official said Monday.

Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, a Kurd, will replace existing chief judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who submitted his resignation on Jan. 15 citing government criticism of the way he has handled the sessions, said Raid Juhi, the chief investigator who prepared evidence for the trial.

Amin's deputy, Saeed al-Hammash, had been touted as the next chief judge, but he has also been transferred from the case and replaced, Juhi told The Associated Press. Juhi insisted the removal had nothing to do with efforts to have al-Hammash booted off the court because of his alleged membership in Saddam's Baath party.

Al-Hammash denied ever joining the party.

Iraqi authorities were unable to convince Amin, also a Kurd, to withdraw his resignation, which is the latest complication in a trial which has already seen two defense lawyers assassinated and a judge step down, Juhi said.

Saddam and seven co-defendants have been on trial since Oct. 19 in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail in 1982 following an assassination attempt against the president.

In other developments:

  • An Iraqi deputy minister for justice says six of nine women whom the kidnappers of American reporter Jill Carroll want released may be freed from U.S. military custody this week. But White House counselor Dan Bartlett said on CBS News' The Early Show, "One thing we can't do unfortunately is negotiate with terrorists … It would only invite more kidnappings and more death." The kidnappers threatened to kill Carroll unless U.S. forces released all Iraqi women in military custody.
  • Water supplied to a U.S. base in Iraq was contaminated and the contractor in charge, Halliburton, failed to tell troops and civilians at the facility, according to internal documents from the company. Although the allegations came from Halliburton's water quality experts, the company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney denied there was a contamination problem at Camp Junction City in Ramadi.
  • A suicide car bomber killed at least three Iraqis Monday near the Green Zone housing the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government. The suicide bomber targeted a police patrol near the Iranian Embassy, said the top Baghdad police officer.
  • Two U.S. airmen were killed and a third was wounded in an attack on a convoy Sunday near Taji, where a U.S. air base is located 12 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. The deaths brought the number of U.S. military personnel killed since the war in Iraq began in March 2003 to at least 2,226, according to an Associated Press count.

    Abdel-Rahman was a member of the Iraqi High Tribunal, which has been set up to hear allegations against Saddam. But he was not among the five judges hearing the Dujail case.

    His appointment came as a surprise as al-Hammash, a Shiite Muslim, had been widely expected to replace Amin. Al-Hammash blamed Baathists, Saddam loyalists and others for his removal.

    "This is a conspiracy," he told The Associated Press.

    But Juhi said al-Hammash had been "transferred" to another chamber within the tribunal and that another new judge will to be brought in to replace him.

    Last week, the Iraqi official in charge of the government's De-Baathification commission responsible for removing Baathists from official posts accused al-Hammash of being a Baathist.

    Al-Hammash has denied belonging to the Baath Party and a U.S. official has said the De-Baathification laws introduced following the 2003 toppling of Saddam do not apply to the tribunal.