Chief judge replaced in Saddam trial

The chief judge in Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial was replaced today amid complaints from Shiite and Kurdish officials that he was too soft on the former Iraqi leader, a move that could raise accusations of government interference in the highly sensitive case.

The chief judge in Saddam Hussein’s genocide trial was replaced today amid complaints from Shiite and Kurdish officials that he was too soft on the former Iraqi leader, a move that could raise accusations of government interference in the highly sensitive case.

Abdullah al-Amiri was replaced on the five-member panel by his deputy in the trial, Mohammed al-Uraibiy, said a court official.

Al-Uraibiy is a Shiite Muslim Arab, the official said.

The Iraqi High Tribunal, the country’s supreme court, made the request in a letter to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who approved it.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabagh said the Prime Minister exercised his right under court regulations to transfer a judge to another, higher court.

A lawyer defending senior officials in Saddam’s former regime, including former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, decried the move as purely political.

“This was a coup that succeeded. There was no legal reason for removing him (al-Amiri),” Badee Izzat Aref said.

“They (court officials) felt that he would not respond to their demands,” he said.

Hussein al-Duri, an aide to the prime minister, said one reason for al-Amiri’s dismissal was the judge’s comments last week in a court session, in which he told Saddam, “You were not a dictator”.

“The head of the court is requested to run and control the session, and he is not allowed to violate judicial regulations,” al-Duri told Al-Arabiya television. “It is not allowed for the judge to express his opinion.”

Al-Amiri’s comment angered many Kurds and Shiites, fuelling their criticism that he was too lenient with Saddam. Prosecutors had already asked for al-Amiri to be replaced after he allowed Saddam to lash out at Kurdish witnesses during a court session.

The change could revive complaints that the government is interfering in the tribunal trying Saddam and his regime members to ensure a quick guilty verdict.

In the current trial, Saddam faces a possible death penalty if convicted on genocide charges over the Anfal military offensive against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s.

In Saddam’s first trial – over alleged atrocities against Shiites in the town of Dujail – the chief judge stepped down halfway through the 9-month-long proceedings, saying he could no longer put up with criticism from officials that he was too lenient in allowing courtroom outbursts by Saddam and his co-defendants.

He was replaced by a far tougher judge who several times threw out defendants and defence lawyers he said were out of line.

A verdict in the Dujail trial is expected on October 16.

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