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U.S. officials, Allawi at odds over timetable for Saddam's trial

Updated:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Worsening security, legal complexities and the lack of an Iraqi lawyer willing to represent Saddam Hussein make it impossible for the ousted dictator and 11 others to stand trial any time soon, a U.S. official involved with the tribunal said Friday.

While refusing to provide a possible date for the trials, the official all but dismissed a recent statement by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi that they could start as early as October.

The official, briefing foreign reporters on condition of anonymity, did not rule out the possibility the trials may not begin for another year _ or more.

``The likelihood of trials in the near future is remote,'' the official said.

It was the second time this week that U.S. and Iraqi officials differed over legal issues.

On Wednesday, Iraq's Justice Ministry said that Iraqi and coalition authorities had decided to release Rihab Rashid Taha, the female scientist known as ``Dr. Germ'' for helping Iraq make weapons out of anthrax. But the U.S. Embassy insisted no such decision had been made. Allawi confirmed no release of detainees was imminent.

Militants holding foreigners hostage have demanded the release of all Iraqi women from jail.

U.S. officials and Iraqi national security adviser Qassim Dawoud also disagreed over who had custody of Taha.

Analysts said such disputes are likely to increase as Iraqis look to take full control of their country.

``The United States is used to being in control and we don't give up control easily,'' said Rachel Bronson of the Council on Foreign Relations. ``The fact that it has broken out in public twice this week suggests there are differences between the two.''

But Bronson said that, while some American officials in Baghdad may be wary of Allawi and his heavy-handed tactics, President Bush and top administration officials are firmly behind the prime minister.

``It is an issue of disagreement rather than exhaustion with Allawi,'' she said.

The differences over timing came a day after the tribunal's ousted director, Salem Chalabi, accused Allawi of trying to take over the court and pushing for ``show trials'' to boost his popularity ahead of elections in January.

The U.S. official on Thursday dismissed the claim. The Americans play a key advisory role in the tribunal and work alongside Iraqi authorities to gather evidence.

A defiant Saddam appeared in court July 1 where he was presented with seven preliminary charges, including killing rival politicians, gassing ethnic Kurds in 1988, invading Kuwait in 1990, and suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991.

But prosecutors haven't issued specific indictments, the official said. He said there were 49 potential slots for judges, and 39 of them had now been filled.

The official said escalating violence across Iraq has made it difficult to collect evidence, such as excavating mass graves. It has also forced authorities to set up elaborate security for judges and potential witnesses.

Authorities have already had to abandon plans to hold the trial at one venue because it was not secure. A new one is under construction; officials have refused to reveal its location.

Another problem delaying the proceedings is that no Iraqi lawyers have agreed to take on Saddam's defense _ a requirement under the court's statutes. The official said if one is not found quickly, authorities will likely ask the Iraqi bar association to appoint an attorney.

Although Iraqis may not want to defend Saddam for fear of retribution, nearly two dozen foreigners have put their names forward.

Since his capture in December, Saddam has been held at a U.S. detention center in Iraq. Iraqi officials have indicated he could be put to death if found guilty.

Eleven of Saddam's top lieutenants also face trial, including Ali Hasan al-Majid, known as ``Chemical Ali'' for his role in chemical weapons attacks against the Kurds; Sultan Hashim Ahmad, Saddam's defense minister; Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president; and Tariq Aziz, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister and the international face of Saddam's regime.
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