Saddam Hussein and three others will stand trial in the 1982 massacre of Shiite villagers north of Baghdad, a senior judge announced today.
It is the first criminal case brought against the ousted leader.
Raid Juhi, chief judge of the Iraq Special Tribunal, said the preliminary investigation into the July 8 1982 massacre in Dujail, a predominantly Shiite village 50 miles north of Baghdad, has been completed and the case referred to the courts for trial.
"The date for the trial will be determined within the few coming days by the gentlemen in the criminal court," Juhi said.
The announcement roughly corresponds to an indictment in US jurisprudence, legal officials said, although Saddam and the others will be considered "charged" when they appear in court. The court will now have 45 days to announce a date for the start of the trial.
Others facing trial in the case are Barazan Ibrahim, intelligence chief at the time and Saddam's half-brother; former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, at the time a Baath party official in Dujail. If convicted they could receive the death penalty.
Saddam's security forces massacred the village after the president narrowly escaped assassination.
Iraqi officials have announced the imminent start of Saddam's trial before, only to have the proceedings delayed. The Americans privately have urged caution about rushing into a trial, saying Iraq must develop a good court and judicial system first.
US officials say there are also concerns a trial could interfere with the important process of writing a constitution and inflame sectarian tension. The Iraqi government must finish a draft by mid-August so it can hold a referendum on the charter ahead of December elections for a full-term government.
Saddam, 68, has been jailed under American control at a US military detention complex near Baghdad airport.
Saddam is also expected to face charges for his alleged role in the 1987-88 campaign to drive Iraqi Kurds from wide areas of the north and for crushing the Shiite revolt in the south after US-led forces from Iraqi invaders from Kuwait in 1991.