Saddam trial judge seeks to resign for 'personal reasons'

THE chief judge in the trial of Saddam Hussein has asked to resign.

The tribunal said yesterday that Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin submitted his resignation for "personal reasons" and not because of government pressure. It said the trial of Saddam and seven co-defendants would reconvene on January 24 as scheduled despite the uncertainties surrounding Mr Amin.

A member of the five-judge panel said that the tribunal was still considering whether to appoint another judge to take Mr Amin's place. He said officials had asked Mr Amin to reconsider.

"Tomorrow things will be clear," said the judge, who along with the three other judges under Mr Amin has not made his identity public for security reasons.

Mr Amin submitted his resignation after becoming fed up with criticism that he had let the Saddam proceedings spin out of control, a court official said on Saturday.

"One of the reasons behind his resignation is the statements by officials, including the justice minister, criticising him for his performance in the court. We do not yet know the results of the meetings between our delegation and Rizgar," the judge on the panel said.

Saddam has often grabbed the spotlight during the nearly 3-month-old trial. He has railed at the judge, refused to show up at one session, claimed he was tortured and openly prayed in court when the judge would not allow a recess.

The former leader and his co-defendants are charged in the deaths of more than 140 Shi'ite Muslims from the town of Dujail who were killed in retaliation for a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam. Conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.

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

Meanwhile, the international team assessing the December 15 parliamentary election will release its final report on Thursday.

Iraq's election commission has said it is awaiting the report before certifying the vote results, which would open the way for forming a new government.

Although leading politicians have expressed hopes a government could be formed in February, most experts and officials agree it could take two to three months for an interim government to be formed.

The governing United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite religious bloc, has a strong lead. But it won't win enough seats to avoid forming a broad-based coalition with Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties.

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