Names of prosecutors, judges in trial of Saddam Hussein to be kept secret at first.

The names of the prosecutors and judges who will try Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party inner circle will remain secret until pretrial questioning begins in an effort to protect them from supporters of the ousted leader, the tribunal's top official said Wednesday.

One of the first Baath leaders to go on trial perhaps even before Saddam will be Ali Hassan al-Majid, a top Saddam deputy who earned the name ''Chemical Ali'' for his campaign against the Kurds in 1980s in which chemical weapons were used and tens of thousands of Kurds were killed, said Salem Chalabi, the court's newly appointed top executive.

Questioning of likely defendants could start in two or three months, though no date has been set for the trial itself, Chalabi told The Associated Press.

Seven judges and four prosecutors have been named, but their identities will not be revealed until ''the investigation officially begins with the defendants'' Chalabi said.

Five judges have been killed since the fall of Saddam's regime a year ago, mostly for ties with the coalition.

The choice of Chalabi to put together the all-Iraqi court places the Iraqi National Congress headed by his uncle, Ahmad Chalabi in the forefront of the high-profile trial of Saddam.

Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council who during decades of exile was a prominent opponent of Saddam, is distrusted by many Iraqis who see him as outsider. Observers have said there may be a move to shake up the court when a new government takes power on June 30.

''I would think somebody like Chemical Ali would be one of the earlier ones'' to go on trial, Chalabi said in an interview with CNN.

''Our evidence gathering (against al-Majid) is quite well developed'' particularly for his role in the use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish town of Halabja.

Some 5,000 were killed when Saddam's forces bombarded Halabja with chemical weapons in 1988. The attack followed the ''Anfal Campaign'' that al-Majid led against the Kurds and Kurdish fighters in which some 180,000 people died.

But lesser known figures in his Baathist regime may go on trial before al-Majid, Chalabi said. The U.S. military has arrested all but 11 figures on a list of 55 most wanted Baathist leaders issued a year ago.

Chalabi told CNN that Saddam's trial would likely not begin before November presidential elections in the United States, but evidence-gathering and some indictments should be finished by then.

No defense lawyer has yet been appointed to represent Saddam, said Chalabi, who is the court's executive head but does not serve as a judge. His selection for the post by the Governing Council was announced Tuesday.

''We are going to be meeting with all the defendants in the next couple of months ... and giving them copies of the statute of the tribunal, informing them of what their rights are, whether they want to appoint counsel,'' Chalabi said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.

''We are trying to give defendants equal rights to those which exist in Western countries,'' he said.

Saddam, who was captured by U.S. troops in December, is being kept at an undisclosed location in or near Baghdad and has been interrogated by the CIA and FBI.

The U.S. Justice Department has been gathering evidence for a war crimes case against Saddam, while other international groups have been sifting through the mass graves where U.S. officials say 300,000 victims of Saddam's regime were buried.

[Source: By Bassem Mroue, Associated Press, Baghdad, Irq, 21Apr04]

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