Iraq Prepares Tribunal Statute; Court to Hear War-Crime Trials

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The Iraqi Governing Council within weeks is expected to create a war-crime tribunal to prosecute Saddam Hussein and those responsible for atrocities committed under his decades-long rule.

The U.S.-appointed council intends to announce the final statute establishing the court and present it to Iraq's U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer for his approval, opening the way for Saddam - if he is caught - to be brought to trial.

"It is something I expect to see occurring within the coming weeks," said Pierre-Richard Prosper, the State Department's envoy on war-crime issues.

According to State Department officials and an Iraqi-American lawyer advising the Governing Council, the draft statute is in an advanced stage and the council is eager to move forward with it.

Under the statute, the proposed crime categories include genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Iraqis already in U.S. custody - such as the notorious Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali, and the scientist Rihab Taha al-Azawi, dubbed Dr. Germ - would likely be the first high-profile cases to be tried.

President Bush has insisted that those found guilty of war crimes in Iraq would be punished. "War criminals will be hunted relentlessly and judged severely," he said in a March address to the military, in the early days of the war.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the world's Islamic countries gave a nod to Iraq's Governing Council yesterday and called for officials of Saddam's deposed regime to be brought to justice for mass killings.

Foreign ministers from the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference also called on group members to provide "all forms of support and assistance to meet Iraq's needs" so the war-torn country can quickly get back on its feet.

The statement was sure to be a psychological boost to the U.S. and British military in Baghdad.

The proposed sentences for the crimes are still being worked on."It's something that the Iraqi leadership is grappling with: their desire to have a wide range of punishments available while recognizing there are members of the international community who do not support the death penalty," a State Department official said.

The drafters of the statute are aware that the tribunal would have a higher standing internationally if it were recognized by the world community. Many European and U.N. member countries are against the death penalty.

The court will also need considerable international financial assistance.

"There is creative thinking taking place," Mr. Prosper said of the final discussions on the sentencing guidelines.

Iraqi-American lawyer Sermid Al-Sarraf, who has advised the Governing Council's subcommittee responsible for drafting the statute, said Iraqi and international lawyers, human rights groups and local civic organizations overwhelmingly agreed on the need for a national tribunal of Iraqis with international support - rather than an international court.

"The international community is not seen as impartial; it doesn't come with clean hands because it is viewed as having failed in its obligations to address the crimes of Saddam," Mr. …