Saddam trial deputy judge 'should not take top post'

The No. 2 judge in the Saddam Hussein trial should not replace the resigning chief judge because of claims he belonged to the once-ruling Baath Party, according to the head of the body working to rid Baathists from Iraqi institutions.

The No. 2 judge in the Saddam Hussein trial should not replace the resigning chief judge because of claims he belonged to the once-ruling Baath Party, according to the head of the body working to rid Baathists from Iraqi institutions.

Ali al-Lami, executive director of the De-Baathification Commission, said a formal letter was sent to the Iraqi High Tribunal objecting to the possibility that deputy judge Said al-Hamash would replace chief judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin.

Al-Hamash, a Shiite Muslim, belongs to the five-judge tribunal trying the former Iraqi leader and seven co-defendants in a 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in Dujail, north of Baghdad.

“Al-Hamash should not be the chief judge and must be replaced by another because he once was a Baath Party member,” al-Lami said.

Al-Hamash was not immediately available for comment. The trial’s chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Mousawi, said the court is checking al-Hamash’s background but added that the judge stressed that he was never a Baathist.

Al-Lami claimed 19 other serving Iraqi judges were Baathists.

The commission is charged with removing senior members of Saddam’s party from government posts.

An estimated 1.5 million Iraqis belonged to the Baath Party at the time of Saddam’s fall in April 2003.

Most say they joined for practical reasons, arguing that membership was needed for career advancement, to secure places at prestigious colleges, or to get specialised medical care.

Iraqi officials have said al-Hamash, aged in his 50s, is expected to replace Amin, a Kurd, who resigned amid claims of government interference in the high profile case.

The switch is not expected to prevent the trial’s January 24 scheduled resumption. The trial recessed on December 22 after two days of testimony. Conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.

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

Since the trial opened on October 19, two defence lawyers also have been assassinated and a third has fled the country. Police also uncovered a plot to fire rockets at the courtroom in late November.

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